Before STEM was an educational acronym and the word makerspace was coined, one of my favorite activities in the spring was making hot air balloons with my elementary students. Who knew this was a makerspace + STEM project? Similar to the Pringles Challenge I shared in an earlier blog, the hot air balloon challenge is not only fun, but also encompasses all of the skills we love from STEM activities. These instructions originated with Dr. Milton Payne of Stephen F. Austin State University.
Hot Air Balloon Materials
- 7 sheets of 20 x 30” (50 x 75 cm) tissue paper
- 14” (35cm) lightweight wire
- Glue sticks
- Clear tape
- Compact, propane camp stove
- Camp stove fuel
- Pot holders
- 3’ stove pipe or metal coffee cans taped together with duct tape
Things to Know about the Project
- This is a great project for 4th through 7th grade.
- I divided my class into groups of three for balloon making.
- Tissue paper easily tears, so have extra sheets available.
- This project is a great time to introduce the proverb, “Measure twice, cut once.”
- You can certainly decorate the balloon with scraps of tissue paper, but warn your students that extra weight will affect performance. (Or don’t warn them and let them learn on their own.)
- Launch the balloons the earliest in the morning that you can.
- Watch the weather forecast to pick a calm and low humidity morning.
- Launch in an open area away from trees and power cables.
- Math – measurement
- Science – heat rises, buoyancy
- History – ballooning
- Language Arts – research proverbs, write adventure stories
- STEaM (just not STEM) as the creative process is included
Websites to Use with This Project
- How does a hot air balloon work?
- Hot Air Balloon Physics
- Why Albuquerque is the perfect spot to hold the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Bring in an Outside Expert
The 2017 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta will take place from October 7-15 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Balloon Fiesta has over 600 balloons each year, making it the largest ballooning event on earth. I don’t have any specifics on how to do this, but you have some time to reach out to an attendee or pilot and perhaps hold a Facebook Live, Google Hangout, or Skype conversation with your class during this event. How cool would that be!
Hope you have some high flying fun.