Friday, March 09, 2012

Balloon Surfing

We still had 80+ balloons leftover after last week's balloon cage. I'd told the kids that those who wanted would get the chance to pop them on Monday, but reader Vicki suggested "balloon surfing" in the comments, which sounded like something we must try. So the popping was put off for a couple days so we could try the balloon surfing experiment.

The challenge was going to be to get to the surfing in a way that would put the children in a position to be sufficiently awed by the science. I was hoping to ask questions and to point out facts that would help them get to that understanding on their own. That was the entire lesson plan. Germans I've known would have called this "leading from the middle." It requires paying close attention to what the children are doing and saying, then taking advantage of their insights and observations to help them take it to the next level. People in the play-based education game revere those times when the children are "in flow." Well, when this works, this is the teacher version of being in the flow; or maybe it could be visualized as the teacher attempting to surf on the children's flow. Whatever the case, it's something I've gotten better at the longer I've taught. I can't imagine how anyone learns to do it in college. Learning to surf with the children is such a personal thing, such a game of nuance, nimbleness, and experience that I can only imagine learning it by doing it. It doesn't always work, you can't always get your feet on the board, sometimes the wave doesn't turn out as you expected, but when it does, baby . . . Yeah!

Our conversation was more elaborate than what I've recorded here. I've left most of it out, trying to focus on the aspects we used for surfing. This whole process took about 45 minutes.

I pulled the balloons out for the Pre-K group. We unpacked a couple of the large garbage bags in which we've been storing them. The kids chased them around the floor, tossed them into the air, kicked them; the usual stuff you'd expect kids to do with balloons aplenty.

Sena picked up a partially deflated balloon, "It's a baby!" We'd had few "babies" to play with last week as well: it was a joke we'd told each other during our balloon cage play and Sena was doing a "call back," to use the professional term, reminding us of some of the funny fun we'd had. We collected a few more babies, then Sylvia gave us an important vocabulary word, "They're deflated."

I asked, "Does that mean they're popped?"

"No, it means they lost a little air."

We squeezed the babies a bit.

I asked the group as we played together, "How did the air get out?"

Violet said, "There must be a hole in them."

"Yeah," said Sylvia, "they get little holes in them and the air hisses out." Another good vocabulary word to jump on. We made hissing noises.

I thought this called for a demonstration. "Do you want to hear the hiss? I'll make a little hole in a balloon." I picked up a nice plump one.

Sienna said, "I'm worried you'll pop it! I'm allergic to popping." A couple of the other kids were a bit wide eyed.

"Don't worry, I can deflate it without popping it," and with that, and without really thinking first, I used my canine teeth to bite a little hole near the nozzle. I wanted to do it fast before anyone's worries could build up -- anticipation of balloon pops is really the worst of it. "It's hissing!"

We gathered around and took turns feeling it in our ears. 

Once the balloon was the size of a small "baby," I said, "We made a hole in it, but it didn't pop."

Jody said, "You have to stomp on it to make it pop." 

I'd stood up and there was a yellow balloon near my foot. "I weigh 165 pounds." (I heard at least one child say, "That's a lot!") "If I put all my 165 pounds on one foot on top of this balloon, are you saying it will pop?"


And I did it. No one was particularly startled because, I think, they'd not had time to work themselves up to being startled. It was, in reality a sound no louder than many other sudden sounds we make throughout the day. Whatever the case, Sienna said, "That wasn't very loud. But next time please warn me so I can cover my ears . . . because of my allergy." (I know it sounds like something from a movie, but she really said it like this. It was hard to keep a straight face, especially since she didn't seem to be upset.)

Several of the kids fell on the popped balloon parts, wanting to handle them.

We were ready for balloon surfing. I'd set aside a couple garbage bags of balloons, each holding about a dozen fully inflated ones. I said, "I want to try something." Violet's dad Eric and and I placed the two bags on the rug with the balloons arranged in a single layer. We then inverted a table and put it on top. Many of the kids were surprised that none of the balloons popped. "It's so heavy, but they're not popping."

I reminded them that when I popped the balloon I'd put all 165 of my pounds onto my small foot. "Now I'm going to try standing on the table." They were pretty much unanimous that the balloons would pop. Sienna let us know that she was going to cover her ears. I really didn't know if this would work, but it did: not a balloon popped. "When all my weight was on my small foot, the balloon popped. When my weight is distributed over a foot as big as the table, none of the balloons popped." These are the moments, these moments when they are fully engaged in a group project, flowing, when kids are most wide open. 

I got off. "Who else wants to get on?" Jody was first, but it was only a matter of seconds before all 8 of them were on the table, if only briefly. I saw no sign that the balloons were anywhere near popping, even when they started jumping up and down. Sienna wanted to sit so she could keep her hands over her ears.

The following day, when we finally got around to popping the balloons, Sienna stomped away with the best of them, not having a lot of success, but doing it with gusto. And still, she did it while covering her ears.

We'd ridden this wave together, learning about ourselves while engaging fully with some basic science.

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Pixie said...

That's awesome. And a delicious way to explore the science of distributing weight, much like your 'awesome power' of lifting the fort together, the balloons were sharing the load. :)

Another fun thing with lots of balloons is filling a sleeping bag with them and squeezing in. You feel a bit like a caterpillar and it's good silly fun.

Sounds like a lovely celebration of Science!

Cave Momma said...

I love this! I will definitely be doing all of this!

Vicki said...

Love that you tried it! And isn't it fun!!