'Mythbusters' elevates Derry classroom experience
After weeks of preparing equipment, studying air currents and calculating temperature changes, when the “Mythbusters” class at Derry Area High School released a 6-foot-wide weather balloon into the sky, there was a moment of panic.
Senior Hayden Norris said the helium-filled experiment — so sensitive to bursting that students had to wear gloves to handle it — took off from the football field, but wind conditions pushed it down and got it stuck on a fence.
“My heart just dropped,” he said. “I thought the balloon popped.”
Thankfully, it didn't, and the second launch went as planned. “It finally just went straight up, straight up in the sky,” Norris said.
The class, taught by Brian Clawson, is a half-year, project-based elective course.
Clawson said he allows the students to brainstorm ideas they'd like to try, which so far this year have included testing the decomposition rate of fast-food sandwiches, the creation of Archimedes' solar rays and the launch of the weather balloon.
“They were very interested in being able to create and design their own projects,” Clawson said. “We don't necessarily have a set curriculum as long as we practice and research the science that goes into it.”
Projects such as the weather balloon have helped students see how the scientific process works firsthand with trial and error, said senior Neil Byers.
“It was a sense of accomplishment to see it the whole way through and see it work the way it did,” he said.
The class put two cameras and a GPS unit inside a small cooler attached to the bottom of the balloon. They added handwarmers to the contents of the cooler to ward off the high-altitude cold temperatures.
Students alerted the FAA of the project and waited as the balloon rose an estimated 125,000 to 150,000 feet, Clawson said. The class lost GPS contact with it because of high wind speeds, then after two hours they were notified it was in Mt. Airy, Md., 90 miles away.
Clawson said they estimated it might land somewhere near Chambersburg or Shippensburg, but when the balloon expanded as far as it could —about 32 feet in diameter — and finally popped before falling to earth, it was 210 miles away in Smyrna, Del.
Clawson and another teacher planned to find the balloon remnants that night, so they drove to the small town and enlisted the help of the volunteer fire department to find the exact location — atop a 65-foot tree, one of the only trees within a two-mile radius.
“Of course, we had to hit it,” Clawson joked.
After the balloon was retrieved, examination of the photos it gathered from more than 20 miles high were impressive, showing tiny white clouds below and the glowing blue curve of the Earth.
“I didn't know what to expect, really,” said senior Jake Hayman. “I didn't know it would go that high or what the images would look like.”
The class, open to seniors, juniors and sophomores, is planned again for next year, but projects could vary with the new group of 50 students.
Hayman said that no matter the subject, he thinks the science is more accessible through projects than lectures.
“It helps you understand some of this stuff because it's more hands-on, rather than sitting and taking notes,” he said.
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Four helicopters respond to Route 51 crash in Rostraver
- Miami gets prepared for ‘physical’ Pitt football team
- Steelers plan to use smart pass rush against Seattle QB Wilson
- Steelers notebook: Linebacker Timmons hoping for contract extension
- Penguins 4th line is showing promise
- Penguins notebook: Dupuis’ intangibles provide 1st-line value
- Friends, family, history lure natives back to Western Pennsylvania
- Washington project ensures long-term carbon storage
- Greensburg Salem boys hope to build on trip to WPIAL postseason
- Phipps winter show glows with holiday warmth
- Central Catholic’s Jones plays key role in all phases