AmeriCorps Journal. Part Three.


Since I had a bunch of balloons left over from the previous week’s project, I decided to use them all up this week to encourage the children in the Sharon Elementary Science Club to explore the mechanics of human respiration.

After giving it some mature thought and reflection over the weekend, here is what I presented my future Einsteins with on Tuesday afternoon:

  • We started out by briefly discussing the famed fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. Almost all the students knew from the get-go that Holmes was a dazzling detective, but that is about all they knew of him.  (I guess Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is not required reading anymore – if it ever was.)  So I had to fill them in on the Art of Deduction, and how they, as scientists, would need to sharpen that skill in order to profit from the upcoming experiment.
  • As always, I assigned someone to be our secretary, jotting down observations and discoveries as they occurred to the members of the Science Club during our activity.
  • I led a short discussion on the gases involved in breathing; we inhale nitrogen, oxygen, and argon – and exhale the same three, although in slightly different proportions, along with carbon dioxide and water vapor.
  • Once that was established I passed out a balloon and a jelly bean to each Club member, with instructions to drop the jelly bean into the balloon and blow it up and let the air out several times, and then shake out the jelly bean to see what, if anything, had happened to it.
  • There followed a general bedlam for two or so minutes as Club members blew up their balloons the first time and discovered, much to their delight, that a jelly bean inside an inflated latex balloon sounds amazingly like a stampeding herd of cattle when rattled around.
  • After they got THAT out of their systems they settled down and performed the experiment with a serious single-mindedness.
  • They discovered, among other things, that the jelly bean removed from the balloon was now wet, sticky, cracked, slimy, a lighter color, and no longer smooth but rough.

Now I led them in a discussion as to WHY this had happened to the jelly bean; what was it inside the inflated balloon that had caused the metamorphosis?  From the Club members own notes I quote their responses, verbatim:

  • Shaking the balloon caused the changes.
  • Carbon dioxide was responsible for the changes.
  • A few students admitted that they had spit into their balloons, and that undoubtedly had been the cause of the change.
  • A few students thought it was the water vapor from their exhalations that had changed the jelly beans.
  • One student, by the name of Slade, declared the entire experiment bogus and of nil effect unless we also dropped a jelly bean into a balloon and left it uninflated to see if the same changes would take place. I allowed him to proceed with the challenge, and he had to admit that the jelly bean did not exhibit any of the characteristics of the beans that had been inside the inflated balloons.

And finally, a Club member by the name of Jasmine declared that she was going to try to get a drink of water out of her balloon after blowing it up and letting the air out enough times to distill a pint of water vapor.

I look forward to hearing how her experiment went next week!

AmeriCorps Journal. Part Two.


My second week on the job as the AmeriCorps Science Club leader at Sharon Elementary in Orem, Utah, began with a bang.  Literally.

Our science project was simple.  Does a balloon weigh more empty or full?  I gave each Science Club member a balloon, with instructions to begin experimenting.  But I made one fatal mistake – I forgot these were not seasoned, disciplined scientists, but exuberant fourth, fifth and sixth graders.

Chris was the first one to see how big he could blow his balloon up.  He got it pretty big before it exploded, with a report like a hand grenade.  There was a chorus of shrieks from the girls and cheers from the boys, and then began a mad race to see who else could get their balloon to expand and explode.

I nipped this insurrection in the bud by recalling the members to their duty, and threatening to take away all their balloons, and they settled down to working as teams to figure out how to weigh their balloon uninflated and then inflated.

Being concerned that the kids would not internalize or remember too well what they were learning with their hands-on projects, this week I appointed secretaries to each group.  The secretary’s duty is to record the results and conclusions of the group.  To reinforce the importance of keeping records, I have each secretary get up and read the record of their group effort at the end of the half hour.

Here are some of their observations about measuring the weight of a balloon when it is uninflated, and when it is inflated, verbatim:

  1. “The balloon is fat so the air is pulling it down.”
  2. “The air is pushing the balloon so it gets wider but it weighs the same.”
  3. “The red balloons are always heavier than the yellow balloons.”  (I assigned this group to come back next week with some kind of explanation as to WHY they believe this.)
  4. “The air is squeezed tighter inside the balloon than outside the balloon so that makes it heavier.”
  5. (This one surprised the heck out of me, because it is so observant!) “The blown up balloon has to weigh more than not (sic) because our breaths have water vapor which gets stuck in the balloon, which is more mass.”
  6. “The color changes when you blow it up.”
  7. “It didn’t work.”
  8. “In cartoons balloons float up but not with only air in them, so the air doesn’t weigh anything.”
  9. “It has to weigh something because everything has to weigh something.”

Next week we will continue to work with balloons, studying some simple rules of propulsion.  I’m thinking of having a balloon race so the Science Club Members can find out if there is any way to control the flight of their balloons. This should prove very scientifically significant.

(Besides, I just like watching balloons sail through the air!)