As the balloons rose up and into the air, Dwight Branson’s seventh- and eighth-grade students below jumped up and down with excitement as if they too were filled with hot air.
Students had spent two weeks constructing the massive balloons out of tissue and crepe paper, and were now letting their creations loose.
“This is the first year we’ve tried crepe paper,” said Branson. The trial did not go so well, however. The balloon ripped mid-flight and prematurely floated back to earth.
The other tissue paper balloons stayed afloat for three or four minutes.
The project’s purpose is to learn about the science behind hot air rising. When air heats and expands, it becomes less dense and consequently, lighter than the cold air surrounding it. The balloons rise.
When the air cools, and regains its density, the balloon sinks again.
First, students filled their balloons with air by holding the bottom opening over a fan. Then, they held it over a flame to heat the air before letting the balloon escape up into the atmosphere.
Usually, the classes conduct the experiment early in the morning because the colder outside air makes the balloons rise faster.
This year, however, Branson and his classes conducted the experiment shortly before 1 p.m.
Four separate teams constructed balloons and competed against each other to see whose could float the longest. Students also learned about teamwork. Indeed, they all eagerly cheered for the balloons, showing more loyalty to the project as a whole than to their respective teams.
“I think it’s fun to build them,” said Joshua Rush.
“You’ve got to make sure it’s perfect.” Gluing the panels too close together can contribute to the balloon’s demise, he added, making it rip.
One balloon needed mending even before lift-off — small tears had to be taped together. The pre-emptive damage control was effective, and the balloon ended up flying as well as the others.
To create the balloons, students rubber cemented together 10 panels of tissue or crepe paper, each six feet long and 20 inches wide. Then, they constructed the balloon from the panels.
Three of the four balloons were bi- or tri-colored, but students in one group crafted a large yellow McDonald’s arch on their red balloon. “It was just a nice idea,” said Colton Dubell. “Unpredictable.”
The group had earlier joked that they sought McDonald’s sponsorship. Unfortunately, their balloon stayed in the air roughly three minutes, about the same amount of time as one of the other tissue paper balloons. Perhaps a winning balloon might have attracted the attention of sponsors. There’s always next year.
“Ours would have been the highest if we could have patched it,” predicted Rush, whose blue and white balloon tied for three minutes with the McDonald’s balloon.
Another balloon, of white, green and pink stayed in the air for four minutes. All in all, said Branson, the project was a success.
“None of the balloons caught on fire,” he said. “That’s a big plus.”