There has been high-flying adventure being planned all summer at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Elkhart County’s Goshen Clubhouse.
Teens in a summer STEM program have been designing, building and now launching a weather balloon.
“They designed the apparatus that held all the experiments, the GoPro, the GPS. They put it together, all the bolts and nuts. Then we did some calculations based on the jet stream to predict where it was going to land,” said coordinator Ben Flores Singer.
The teens were involved in every aspect of the project. To prepare for the launch, they helped gather the needed information for the FAA and other authorities so the flight could be approved. They even got some help on atmospheric conditions from ABC 57 Meteorologist Tom Coomes.
Coomes said he jumped at the chance to play a role in the project.
“It’s such a great project. To give the kids that spark of science education that’s just not a boring talk, I can’t turn it down,” he said. “I think project-based learning — I’m not sure the kids know they’re learning while they’re doing it because they’re having fun — it’s the best of both worlds.”
On the day of the launch, the teens were nervous, but excited.
“It’s work and fun,” said Ben, one of the teen members. “It’s amazing. We worked for so long on this, basically since the beginning of summer. I’ve learned that balloons are very fragile, but you can do some pretty fun stuff with them.”
As the balloon filled with helium, Club member Ryder said he was a little concerned.
“At first it was leaning. The wind was going everywhere. I was hoping the rig wouldn’t fall off,” he said.
They tracked the balloon all the way to Alvarado, Indiana. The 70-mile journey saw the balloon reach heights of 80,000 feet. As members were tracking the balloon on phones, one teen compared it to a video game.
“This is so much better than playing Minecraft on the X-Box,” said Marcos.
Organizers say creating that kind of excitement is what the project is all about.
“This is my favorite type of learning. It’s hands-on. It wasn’t so structured and guided like they’re used to in school. They got to learn by being curious and showing their initiative to figure things out,” Flores Singer said.
He said he never experienced opportunities like this until he went to college.
“For them to be able to do this in middle school and high school is something that’s really cool. I hope it inspires them to do more of those things,” he said.
The biggest challenge for the teens was working through different problems as they went along.
“There’s no one way to do it. Not all the instructions are written out. It’s up to them to fill in the gaps and ask the questions. I think that’s really the most valuable part of this learning experience — the problem-solving skills. Hopefully, they continue to develop those as they get older,” Flores Singer said.
Coomes agreed and said he was actually a little envious.
“I thought of my summers where I had fun, but day to day they’re having fun, they’re playing sports and getting some really good education in there as well.”