By Stephanie Choate
Spurred by a YouTube video of a student-made weather balloon, Champlain Valley Union High School students created and released their own device into the atmosphere last week.
The weather balloon represented two months of work from more than 60 students in teacher Rick Imes’ weather, climate and ocean classes. The device, which brushed the top of the tropopause—the boundary in the Earth’s atmosphere between the troposphere, in which we all live, and the stratosphere, the next layer of the atmosphere—stayed aloft for six hours.
Though the class intended to send the balloon up with equipment to measure air pressure, temperature and humidity, the payload was too heavy, and students opted to keep video recording equipment and remove measuring equipment. Imes retrieved the balloon earlier this week in Sutton.
Imes said that kind of problem solving was one of the educational aspects of the entirely student-led project.
“It really gives them a sense of what it means to initiate a project and see it through to completion and problem solve in the real world,” he said. “They’re not being spoon-fed when they run into obstacles…. They take ownership of it, and I think the learning that takes place sticks with them a lot longer than some more traditional forms of instruction.”
Senior Olivia Hern agreed, saying the hands-on project was more engaging than lectures.
“No matter how interesting a lecture is, it doesn’t really seem relevant when it’s just pictures on a PowerPoint as much as when you’re doing stuff with your hands,” she said. “I think it was a really cool experience.”
Imes said the weather balloon project may become a staple in his class.
“There’s lots of room in this project for refinement and improvement,” he said. “We’re just ecstatic with how it turned out as our initial attempt. There’s so much more we can do with it. I think we’ll be doing this on a regular basis for a while.”