Balloon Rocket Lab
Posted December 19, 2009on:
I admit I’ve been holding out on you. Let’s just say I thought this one was a bit too low level. I beefed it up and it’s perfect for my Conceptual Physics classes now. I just did it this week and I like the results.
See that rocket shaped balloon on the right… good luck finding them. I seem to only be able to find the regular party balloons. Okay, I didn’t look that hard, but if they were at the local dollar store, I would definitely buy them.
So what’s the big deal about this lab, it seems almost grade school level? First off, again, almost none of my students have ever built a balloon rocket. This never ceases to amaze me. Second, it’s deceptively challenging. Lastly, the kids actually get the principles because of this activity.
To make this work in the classroom, I use a ringstand on one end with several book on the base for weight. I tie a string and put it across the room, leaving the other end open so they can put straws on the string. Each team gets their own ringstand/string setup.
The lab is broken into two missions. The first mission is easy; first, make it go across the room. Then put the balloon at 45 degrees to the string and see what happens. Then repeat for 90 degrees. They sometimes guess that the balloon will spiral, most are surprised but figure out why it spirals.
Mission two is really difficult, I tell them they are being challenged, but they are not graded on success, they are graded on effort and documentation. The mission is to make the balloon go down and automatically come back. They are told they can use two balloons. Once they get into this mission, the kids tend to put two balloons facing opposite each other and let go at the same time. They seem to think that the balloons will know to take turns. They learn first hand that the opposing forces cancel each other out. That’s really the gem in this lesson. I don’t care about them making it come back.
What most do next is blow up one balloon bigger than the other thinking it will move the way they want and then come back because it lasts longer. Again, they usually figure out that the opposing forces cancel. They next try to delay the release of one of the balloons. I get a few creative ideas here using bent straws and twisted balloons, but so far no amazing designs.
I like to sit back and watch this one. You can see the lights go on when they figure out the opposing forces cancel. Below is the lab handout. If you get some good solutions to the return mission, I’d love for you to post the solution here.