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It's all about the science

Local balloonist gives students a demonstration in matter

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Posted: Friday, September 14, 2012 12:42 pm

Not all science can be learned in the confines of a classroom. 

“Our theme this year is making learning come to life,” said Boswell Principal Lael Hyde.

Fourth graders at Boswell Elementary School were treated to science in action Thursday morning when Mark Shoemaker and his family brought their hot air balloon to the school to demonstrate how air is matter.

In fourth grade, students start learning about matter. The students have been doing experiments with bubbles to show them how air is matter, but according to teacher Stefanie Riggs, many students still have a hard time understanding the concept because it can’t be touched and seen like a solid or liquid.

“Today (Thursday), we are hoping that they can learn that air is matter because it is being contained inside the balloon,” Riggs said.

Riggs had asked Shoemaker, who is her neighbor, if he could come to the school, talk about his hot air balloon and possibly show the students some pictures of it.

“He told me, ‘I think I could do better than that. I think I could bring it,’” She said.

Shoemaker gave a science lesson, as the fourth graders gathered in the field by the school’s playground. He explained to them that the balloon is filled with cold air and then heated with a propane flame. The hotter air is lighter than the surrounding air, making the balloon float.

“I’m showing the kids how we use air and how we change the properties of air in order to make the balloon fly,” Shoemaker said.

Shoemaker and his crew unfolded the balloon and started the process of filling it up with air. As the balloon transformed from a large, flat piece of fabric (it takes 77,000 cubic feet of air to fill it), the students watched in awe.  But it was when Shoemaker turned on the propane burner that heats up the cold air that the children really got excited, cheering and clapping for the growing balloon. 

The students didn’t get to see the balloon in flight, as it never left the ground, but they did get an up-close look at the passenger carrying basket beneath the balloon and felt the heat from the burner that kept the balloon afloat.

“These kids can read something in the book and it doesn’t seem real until they see it actually happening like this,” Hyde said.

Shoemaker’s grandparents, who live in hot air balloon Mecca Albuquerque, NM, first piqued his interest in the hobby. Albuquerque hosts the annual International Balloon Fiesta, which draws hundreds of hot air balloons from around the world. His grandparents would send him pictures of the balloons. In 2002, Shoemaker took his first hot air balloon ride and he has was hooked.

For the complete article, see today's print edition of The Daily Record, or view the e-Edition online.

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