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Middle School STEM Class Launches Balloon Into Space

Hello All- 


A couple of months ago I was reminded of the importance of social networking in the "21st Century Classroom."   Out of the blue, I received an email from Jason Krueger of Stratostar Systems in Indiana.  It turns out that we were each trying to do the same thing- get kids excited about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  You can imagine my reaction when he mentioned that he would like to help my students send experiments into space.  This Friday, my students are doing just that......


Being that there are many educators from the Midwest on MSP2, I thought I would blog about my project in the hopes that other schools could possibly share in this wonderful experience first hand.  I am also planning on uploading pictures and many of the details of our project so even if you don't live near Indiana, perhaps your class can create a similar ballooning project much like the two high school students from Canada.  I've invited Jason to post and answer questions.  Please feel free to ask away as Jason is a good guy that is looking to make a difference.


Take Care,



Below is a copy of our press release:


Students from Indian Valley Middle School will be conducting a High-Altitude Weather Balloon launch on  Friday March 2nd 2012 , with Project Based Learning company StratoStar.  Indian Valley students are designing and building experiments to be flown on the flight platform just like real-world Scientist and Engineers.  The balloon and experiments will ascend to an altitude of 100,000 ft above the Earth (three times higher than commercial jets fly).  This region is known as the Edge of Space and is above 99% of the atmosphere.  The balloon will burst and a parachute will bring the experiments gently back to Earth.  The students will be running Mission Control just like NASA in order to collect the real-time data from their experiments and help guide the recovery team to the final landing location.  Typically this type of activity is only conducted by large government agencies such as NASA and NOAA.

The student experiments are focused around such topics as:

  • “How cold is it up there? They will use temperature sensors to make measurements on the way up and down
  • “What is the Jet Stream and how fast is it? Student will be analyzing the real-time data from the GPS onboard to understand the wind speeds at different altitudes.

Indiana Valley teachers Tom Jenkins and Tonda North will be using this exciting hands-on project to engage the students in real World Science, Engineering and Mathematics. Tom and Tonda’s goal for the students is one day they will choose a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

StratoStar will be helping with this launch and is a hands-on Education company dedicated to “Creating the next generation of Scientist and Engineers.” StratoStar is based out of Indianapolis and has worked with Universities, High schools and Jr. Highs across the country to “Unlock student curiosity,” through the use of high-altitude weather balloon missions. http://www.stratostar.net/ .

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Comment by Tom Jenkins on March 12, 2012 at 12:40pm
Comment by Tom Jenkins on March 6, 2012 at 8:36pm

Launch was incredible!!!!  Our balloon traveled over 80 miles, reached an altitude of 63,000 feet, and went as fast as 120 mph.  It was amazing how the entire school bought into this project.  It was great for the gifted, the hard to reach, as well as everyone in between. 
If you would like to learn more about this project please let me know and I will go into greater detail about our process, our experiments, and our findings. 

One of my favorite stories was a student came home from school yesterday- Parent: "What did you do at school today?"  Student: "Nothing big, just launched experiments into space."  The student said that she just walked away and that her mom thought that she was teasing.  The student started laughing and got our website and showed her disbelieving mom the pictures.   This young lady's mother sent me the nicest email and mentioned that they both truly appreciated the experience.  One of my favorite activities in all of my years of teaching.......

Indian Valley Middle School link for more pictures

Comment by Tom Jenkins on March 2, 2012 at 3:46pm
Well....Today was supposed to be launch day....Unfortunately, it turns out that we picked what will probably be the worst day of the year for our project. The threat of tornadoes and lightning…… Really!?! Anyway, “Adapt and Persevere.” So obviously we had to postpone our launch until Monday. On the bright side, the delay will give us more time to prepare our experiments. Initially I only had planed a couple days to brainstorm and package all of our gear. However, some of the kid's ideas are proving to be a huge logistical challenge. This may sound like a negative, but in my opinion these are types of activities that are perfect for STEM.

Our Experiments:
“Astrocrickets”- Create an environment that will enable five crickets to survive a (roughly) two hour flight that will reach an altitude of 15-20mi. Some of the challenges that this group had to prepare for included temperature, atmosphere, radiation, and turbulence. *We had some great bioethical debates when we mapped out this experiment.

Dancing Confetti- This one was originally began as a sound experiment. “If someone were to scream in space- could you hear them?” Then when we started brainstorming we thought about how turbulence would affect objects in the payload boxes. That’s when we came up with the idea of dancing confetti. By putting a Flip camera inside the box, we could not only record sound, but see how objects reacted throughout the flight. One things that the students are especially interested in seeing is how the confetti, foil balls, etc. will react when our balloon reaches apogee. We also will have a paperclip dangling from the top of the package so that we can measure the angle of our balloon throughout the flight.

Ovular Objects- This group is interested in seeing how the pressure and temperature will affect balloons (air and water). Obviously, we had make sure that there was plenty of room in the container and we had to the balloons would not have a negative impact on the other experiments. This resulted in a massive redesign of how we packaged our experiments in the payload boxes. We will also have balloons of varied diameter on the exterior. A camera will be dedicated to these balloons so that we can track the altitude that each of the balloons popped during the flight. This group also wanted to see how space flight will impact grapes. Not only are we going to compare diameter and mass, be we are even going to use temperature sensors inside a couple of the grapes to gather as much information as we can.

I will try to post a few pictures of our pre-launch activities once they are downloaded from our cameras. There have been some wonderful ah ha moments and I’ve been truly impressed with my students throughout the process.

Now, let’s launch this balloon!

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