SPRING GROVE – About 60 fifth-graders yelped and clapped in excitement Monday as a large balloon carrying precious cargo rose quickly into the air.
The goal of the project, which was set behind Spring Grove Elementary School, was not only to combine lessons of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with creativity, but also to break a Guinness World Record for the highest launch of a paper airplane.
Although the group missed the record by about 1,600 feet, the students still had a great time doing what could end up being a once-in-a-lifetime project, said Paul Kaup, a pilot who has led STEM projects at Nippersink District 2 schools for about seven years.
Involved as a parent of Nippersink School District 2 and a Southwest pilot in the adopt-a-pilot program, Kaup started STEM
+ C, a company that facilitates such projects to help students see how everyday lessons can be used in the real world.
He added that their latex balloon likely needed just a few more seconds’ worth of helium to beat the current, 114,970-foot record. The Spring Grove Elementary project reached a maximum altitude of 113,411 feet.
“I think the kids were disappointed, but at the same time, they had a lot of fun,” Kaup said.
Monday’s event was the result of about two months’ worth of work by Kaup and the fifth-graders.
The students sat through lessons on atmospheric constraints and the potential effects of the weather. Fifth-grader Jayda Sherman said they also made model paper airplanes before the 2.5-foot-long, 1-foot-wide cardboard glider was constructed.
As the 15-gram glider was attached to the large, helium-filled weather balloon, students pointed to the messages they had scribbled earlier on the cardboard. After it launched, they were able to watch a live feed from the small camera attached to the model plane.
“Science is so cool,” Jayda said, adding that she and other students had to make estimations of how much helium to put in the balloon and other such calculations beforehand. “It was really cool to learn all of this new stuff.”
The record doesn’t matter so much as long as the students took something from the experience, Kaup said.
“The point is to get these kids thinking about careers – to show them that the stuff they’re learning is going to be used,” he said.