By Terry Groover
For the Greg Bunch’s students, the sky is the limit. Or rather the ceiling of the Yukon Middle School gymnasium.
Bunch teaches a gifted education class for sixth-graders, and recently completed a course involving hot-air balloons.
Bunch said the 161 students in his classes stitched together hot air balloons made from tissue paper, then set them adrift in the gymnasium using both electric and propane heaters.
He said that for the students, it was true hands-on learning.
“The balloons, themselves, take quite a bit of math to build. There is a specific shape that they cut these long panels into … . These shapes are two-dimensional, but when you put them together and bend them, it turns into a three-dimensional shape. This is a nice lesson that we get into,” Bunch said.
The students focus on both math and science, and even get into the theory of Archimedes’ Principle, which focuses on buoyancy.
“We talk about the reason why less dense things float in more dense things, specifically fluids,” he said.
The class began working on the project about three weeks ago, and culminated their work last Thursday and Friday by releasing the balloons in the gymnasium.
Bunch said the balloons could have been released outside, but they wanted to keep them.
He called it project-based learning.
“This unit is pretty heavy on science and math. It supplements our science class. It also supplements our math class,” he said.
The process of making the balloons requires accuracy. Everything must fit correctly in order for the balloons to fly.
“Every stitch of all these balloons has been created by them. It is project-based learning. … This is hands-on learning,” he said.
Because they are so involved in the learning process, it is likely that the students will remember the lessons, Bunch said.
“They have a lot invested as far as working as a group. They are still learning science and math, but they are doing it in such a way that they really invested in what’s going on.
“You can see that in the videos that I shoot and the photos I take. They are delighted and excited to be launching these things,” he said as students worked nearby getting their balloons ready to launch.
As the balloons began to lift from the floor, the students counted down.
“Three, two, one.”
And off they went, stopped only by the gymnasium ceiling.
Each balloon also carried a basket with varying weights to see how long they could stay afloat.
This was the first year for the project, said Bunch.
He previously has taught similar classes involving law, kites and archaeological digs.
Bunch said project-based learning is successful because the students learn by doing.
“This is math and science, but we’re not sitting at our desk turned to page 39. We’re doing it with our hands and they feel invested in these projects because they are the ones who created them. … They have a sense of ownership with all their balloons. They feel connected to this. They learn a lot from this,” he said.
To see a video of the project, go to https://youtu.be/TauPIogLWyY