May 1 was a clear, sunny day. Perfect conditions for Kiser Middle School’s Meteorology Club and UNC Greensboro collaborators to send a high-altitude weather balloon into the stratosphere, more than 85,000 feet above the earth’s surface.
The seventh-graders had worked for several months on the project, with science teachers Temple Cantrell and Aimee Perry; UNCG’s Matt Fisher, assistant director of the School of Education SELF Design Studio Makerspace; UNCG instructional technology consultant Mike Renne and recent Maker in Residence and UNCG sophomore Tim Krauss. This was the second year that Kiser students undertook the experiment, first initiated by UNCG alumnus and Kiser student teacher Erik Winkelman.
Each week of the spring semester, the Meteorology Club met with their UNCG mentors after school to design the payload and onboard computer, test parachutes, create a website and select items for the payload, including test tubes of seawater and tap water.
On the football field, as the 9 a.m. launch time drew closer, Fisher and NC Near Space Research consultant Paul Lowell filled the 6-foot balloon with helium. Meanwhile, the Meteorology Club students performed last-minute checks on their handmade spacecraft, its onboard camera and the “Tigernaut,” Kiser’s tiger mascot along for the ride. The entire seventh grade filled the rows of the Grimsley High School football stadium, with the Greensboro Fire Department and Fox 8 news team standing by.
“3…2….1,” chanted the crowd, and the launch team released the balloon and spacecraft. Up, up, up they sailed amid cheers, the balloon growing smaller and smaller as it ascended.
A few minutes later, the chase team, made up of several students and parent volunteers, took off toward Jordan Lake, where the balloon was predicted to land after it reached a peak altitude, popped and floated back to earth. They retrieved it from a wooded area near Apex, recovering the camera that then held breathtaking photos from the stratosphere and documentation of what happened to the two water test tubes throughout the flight.
Back in the classroom, teachers shared updates and in-flight photos with the entire seventh grade. Excitement was palpable, not only at the launch but throughout the entire day at Kiser.
“This was a perfect example of why I chose to teach,” said Perry. “To have the opportunity for this type of hands-on learning was an awesome experience.”
“I enjoyed seeing the whole seventh grade attend the launch, and giving the Meteorology Club students a chance to be seen as leaders,” said Fisher. “I’ve been amazed that a task that seems really daunting can be attempted and executed by a group of middle school students.”
Fisher says the students will be able to analyze the data they gathered to make predictions and guide their learning for next year’s launch.
To learn more about the experiment, view a video that shows the students’ preparation here, the launch and views from the spacecraft. To see how UNCG brings hands-on learning to schools across Guilford County, visit the UNCG School of Education and SELF Design Studio Makerspace.
By Susan Kirby-Smith
Photography by Martin W. Kane and courtesy of UNCG SELF Design Studio
Top photo: Assistant director of UNCG’s SELF Design Studio holds a helium-filled high altitude weather balloon and graduate assistant Andrea Barbour helps, with a Kiser student.