How To Use Clowns And Balloons In Learning
I love the brain and I want to use what I know about it to help my students learn. I do realize though, that using neuro-jargon (totally a word) with my students is not always the way. To teach them to understand how their brains learn and to have them use this understanding to learn, I need to model it. One of the best ways to do this, is by providing my students with authentic and relevant learning experiences and then reflecting on them together.
Enter Balloon Animals And The Clown
Do you have a balloon art clown friend? Yes? Cool! Ask him or her to spend the day with your class(es). Tell them it'll be fun, because it will be. And then perform the experiments below using their creations. If you don't have a balloon art clown friend, read on.
Hiring a balloon artist clown for the day is probably not in the school budget. Bummer, I know. But, what if you became the clown? All you need is a red nose, a wig, and some baggy clothes. And surely, there are online videos on how to make simple balloon animals and other things.
Or, you can just get a bunch of those long balloons and have kids make the creatures themselves while following YouTube videos. They'll be even more invested if they make their own samples for the experiments to follow.
Figure Out The Density Of The Air Inside The Balloon
Do Not Tell Students What To Do. Ask them to figure it out. The amount of help you give will depend on the level you teach at. In high school, I'd give zero to little help. I'd maybe point them in the right direction if they struggle too much. Just gauge each group's frustration level so no one gives up.
Ideally, the students will remember (or look up) that they'll need to divide mass and volume for density. This means that you'll need lab measuring equipment such as centigram balances for mass and containers (big graduated cylinders, jars, fish tank etc.) for volume. Upon calculating the air density inside the balloon, students can look up atmospheric density and compare the two.
My hope here is that the amount of air inside the balloon has a mass of at least 0.01 grams. If not, then at least students will have to be creative in figuring out how to use displacement to measure volume accurately, which isn't all that easy giving all the irregular shapes they have to measure.
Gas Laws (Warning: Nerd Speak Coming Up!)
If you teach chemistry or other physical science that involves gas laws, you can use your balloon creatures for that quite easily and your students will see the concepts in action. As you inflate the balloon, your students will be able to observe the Ideal Gas Law (IGL) in action as the increasing amount of gas, causes the increase in pressure and volume. If you can gauge the pressure as you inflate the balloon, your students can use the IGL and Avogadro's Number to figure out the number of air molecules in the balloon!
Or, they can stick their air filled flowers, kitties, or puppies in an ice bath and observe the direct proportionality of gas volume to the temperature. And don't forget to talk about the difference between effusion and diffusion while you're at it!
Seriously... Who wouldn't want to be a clown and know how to make balloon things? Clowning and ballooning are on my list of mad skills for sure! And if students pick up some problem solving and creativity prowess along the way? Well, that's just gravy.
The Gift That Just Keeps On Giving
But, here's the sweet part. Not only did you just teach a great lesson, or a series of lessons, but you learned to entertain your own kids with balloon artistry and a whole new world of potential has opened up for you when you acquired this new skill. You can you now make a pretty penny on the side creating balloon art at kid parties and make your local kiddos happy (and extra vacation cash) spending your summer mornings at your local farmer's market blowing up and twisting balloons. The sky's the limit and no more dreadful summer school "teaching!"
In fact, Denis Sheeran, a K-12 mathematics supervisor in Chatham, New Jersey and the author of Instant Relevance, who inspired this post, told me in secret that he plans on moonlighting this way in the coming summer. He's using YouTube in his spare time, to develop mad balloon shaping skills. And you can too! Just don't scare the kids with mean clown faces. That'd be bad for business.
And just because you might not be a math or science teacher reading this, doesn't mean you can't use clowns and/or balloons to teach your subject!
Social Studies? - Clown history!
Music? - Perform at the local carnival!
Speech/Language? - Mimes vs. Clowns debate! Write an essay in English or other language on why you think clowns are essential or a waste of air. Research and record a video on the clown culture of some country.
Design/Engineering? - It gets dicey out there for a clown! Design and build a waterproof or sun resistant clown suit of the future!
Art? - Really?
You have the power to change the world. Use it often.