Everyone, everyone, everyone loves balloons! I think they are one of the fastest ways I know to get kids to smile and feel engaged. So, why not plan a whole STEM program around them?
I researched two programs posted by Growing a Stem Classroom and StemActivitiesForKids.com. Both were excellent resources and helped me envision what I wanted to create with this program. I was also able to find these sites which also have great balloon STEM activities:
- Balloon in a Bottle
- Balloon Rockets
- Balloon Skewer Activity (Great to spark interest!)
- Fireproof Balloon
- Screaming Balloon
- The Spinning Penny (using a balloon)
- Book: Balloon Science by Etta Kaner
I also became super interested in learning about balloon are made. The video, “How It’s Made: Balloons” is excellent. If you would like a book that presents the same story of how balloons are made, Balloon Trees by Danna Smith is great.
Cost and Supplies:
I was able to purchase a pack of 75 balloons at Walmart for $5.00. I also bought masking tape for the tower activity. I was able to find blue painter’s tape for $3 and masking tap for $1. We just used the blue painter’s tape, so if you try this with masking tape, let me know how it goes! I bought 100 bamboo skewers for $1 which we used for the Balloon Skewer Activity. The total cost to run this program was $16, with lots of painter’s tape left over.
This was a 50-minute program for a group of 10 kids. If your group is larger, I would plan on a little more time. After we were done with the tower activity, the kids wanted to play more with the skewers and try to not pop the balloon to impress their parents.
How it went:
This was the first program after school began in September 2017. We began by watching the video, “How It’s Made: Balloons.” To bring in some reflection, I asked the kids to comment on one part of the video that they remembered. For me, I loved seeing how the brushes create the thicker ring at the bottom of the balloons! Who knew this is how it is done!
After the video and discussion, I told the kids that I had two “magic” tricks to show them with balloons that they might want to show their parents or friends. After they saw the trick, we would talk about the science that makes the trick work. I showed the kids the Balloon Skewer Activity, and the group loved it! Basically, I punctured the balloon at the bottom, and again at the top. I explained that these areas are where the rubber molecules are under the least amount of stress or strain. If we could see the molecules of a balloon under a microscope, we would see the many long strands or chains of molecules called polymers. The elasticity of polymers allows the rubber in balloons to stretch. To make this trick work, we need to puncture the balloon where the polymers are stretched the least (the very top of the balloon, and the very bottom where it can be tied.
We also did the Spinning Penny activity. To explain the science, we talked about how the spinning added energy. The shape of the balloon forces the penny to travel in a circular path. Friction causes the penny to show down, and gravity causes the penny to spin lower and lower. Centripetal force (center seeking), however, is the main player in this activity. This force is always directed towards the center of circular movement and what keeps the penny moving in a circle. In our solar system, the pull from the sun’s gravity keeps the earth on its circular path.
Then, it was time to get active! I had a table set up with the supplies for the Balloon Skewer Activity, as well as the Spinning Penny. Some of the kids needed help blowing up their balloons, but they were also delighted when they were able to push a skewer into the balloon without breaking it and were able to make a toy by pushing a penny into another balloon. We worked on this station for about 10 minutes, and then I told the kids to get ready for the tower activity.
We had about 20 balloons already blown up (you may want to blow up more if you know that you will have a large group). I divided the kids into teams of 3-4 each. I then told the kids they had 10 minutes to use the balloons and painter’s tape to build the tallest tower they could. I designated one kid as the “tape person”. They quickly realized that to tape two balloons together, they had to pull off large pieces of tape. The groups also realized very quickly that they needed to build a strong base, and keep taping one balloon on another. It was great to see kids who did not know each other work as a team and communicate very effectively built for 13 minutes before I finally did the “All right, stop in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1” countdown. We then talked about both group’s structures, and what they did to make their structure strong. We also talked about what made this activity challenging.
This was a 50-minute activity, and the kids were very engaged the whole time. After the towers, the kids wanted to experiment more with the skewers, so I helped again at that station. The room looked like we had a party going on, and I think the kids felt like that too. And, we had some surprised parents when their kids showed them their balloons with the skewer running straight through them!