Schools

Smith STEM Students Undertake ‘The Great Balloon Chase’

Smith STEM students in Mrs. ?? class launch a weather balloon from the roof of the school. Submitted photo.
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Students at the West Hartford magnet elementary school experienced ‘live’ science as they launched and tracked a weather balloon Tuesday morning and viewed photos and data from the device that was recovered in Massachusetts.

The Smith STEM school community watches the launch of the weather balloon Tuesday morning. Submitted photo.

The Smith STEM school community watches the launch of the weather balloon Tuesday morning. Photo credit: Michelle Bonner.

By Michelle Bonner

On Tuesday morning students at Smith STEM School in West Hartford had an incredible opportunity to begin their Science class with their lesson playing out on the roof of their school, with the assignment ending a couple of hours later some 60 miles northeast.

Students experienced “live” Science as QUEST teacher Kathy Hardesty and 5th grade teacher Courtney Jacklin launched the “Great Balloon Chase” with the release of a Helium-filled balloon into the Earth’s stratosphere.

“This is very exciting,” said third-grader Jack O’Neill.  “An experience like this is just super cool.” The weather balloon, which was funded in part by the Foundation for West Hartford Schools and the Smith STEM School PTO, carried a carbon square rod, two goPro cameras, a GPS unit and a parachute. It reached an altitude of roughly 25,000 meters (80,000 feet) high above the clouds and the images captured by the cameras proved to be nothing short of spectacular.

Smith STEM students in Mrs. ?? class launch a weather balloon from the roof of the school. Submitted photo.

Smith STEM students in QUEST and Courtney Jacklin’s 5th grade class launch a weather balloon from the roof of the school. Photo credit: Michelle Bonner.

“We’ve all been on a plane above the clouds before,” said Hardesty, “but we’ve never seen a view like this. This was simply amazing to be a part of, from the idea that we could actually do this to the recovery of the balloon on a farm in Massachusetts.”

Hardesty and Jacklin followed the balloon’s path via the GPS system installed, updating its progress with regular Tweets and even provided a link for students to track the mission online.

“This project is what Smith STEM School is all about,” said Hardesty. “It gets the students thinking about where the balloon will land, what the pictures will look like, how long it will take to climb and what causes the balloon to burst and fall back to earth.  It gets the kids excited about what’s beyond the clouds.”

The balloon, which landed in Spencer, Mass. traveled just shy of 60 miles. Original calculations estimated the travel distance to be between 100 – 150 miles from the school.

“This was a big risk,” said Jacklin.  “It didn’t have to be this easy. The balloon could have come down over the ocean and if it had we’d have been done with it. The elements could have been disastrous. We even brought a pool float…just in case. But at the end of the day, Science is a risk and we took it. We understood that it was okay to fail, but in this case, we had enormous success. I couldn’t have been happier.”

View from a gopro camera aboard the weather balloon. Submitted photo.

View from a goPro camera aboard the Smith STEM school weather balloon. Submitted photo.

“I’ve never seen kids so excited,” said Principal Juan Melian. “When kids see things like this they tend to dream and think about the possibilities.”

Even 5th grader Serenity Tillery admits this was superior to learning such a lesson in the classroom. “This was way better than seeing it in a textbook. This is what “LIVE” Science is all about.”

The students will see the incredible pictures and videos captured by the cameras during a school assembly in the next week. They will also get to witness another chase. But the next balloon that goes Up! Up! and Away! will include an even greater learning experience.

A goPro camera aboard the weather balloon photographs the Smith STEM school community watching from below. Submitted photo.

A goPro camera aboard the weather balloon photographs the Smith STEM school community watching from below. Submitted photo.

To watch video of the balloon launch taken by Michelle Bonner, click here: IMG_0627

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