Reflection: Problem-based Approaches Hot Air Balloon Challenge - Section 3: Building and Launching a Balloon


Whenever I design and implement an engineering project I am careful about what sort of building the kids should experience. Should they build a set model with clearly defined and detailed directions, so that everyone builds the exact same thing or should they be given a final project design and be allowed to meet that design however their imagination provides? 

This is a question I struggle with often. I tend to answer the above question based on safety and funding. If the materials used to build the project is very expensive or the safety of the students is anyway dependent on the build, then I tend to have my students follow a set of strict instructions. In the case 'time' is the real enemy. Building from scratch takes twice as long as building from a pattern. If you have enough time (2 weeks) to devote to free building then this may be a better option. 

I believe that true learning of the engineering process occurs when students are allowed to free build whatever design they have conceived. It not only provides a greater degree of learning, it is also easier to teach; just give them the design requirements and materials and let them loose. For me, the hardest part is not providing support. Kids often want to know how they should build something and the teacher in me wants to provide an answer - don't! I learned to shrug my shoulders and turn the question back to the students and ask them how they think it should be built. The student frustration may be higher, but so is the student learning.

  building from scratch versus building with teacher supplied plans
  Problem-based Approaches: Building from scratch versus building with teacher supplied plans
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Hot Air Balloon Challenge

Unit 12: Engineering and Design
Lesson 3 of 11

Objective: Students will be able to build a hot air balloon out of tissue paper and measure the altitude their balloon achieves.

Big Idea: Tissue paper and glue sticks are all that is needed to build a hot air balloon that can achieve tremendous heights.

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  470 minutes
hot air balloon challenge
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