SF Friends School Launched a High Altitude Balloon

This year, my classes embarked on a mission of launching a high altitude weather balloon, in cooperation with Magnitude.io. I’m the 8th-grade science teacher at the San Francisco Friends School and though I’ve been teaching for over a dozen years, I’ve never done a project like this before. We started the project in January when Ted and Tony came into our class (we are lucky to live close by!) for a kickoff to explain the project to the students, show off some tools and videos. After that, we started a weekly videoconference with them where we were able to have discussions with input from the experts

For our payload, I had each class pick one experiment that they wanted to do. We started with ideation – where each class made long lists of every experiment that sounded interesting. Then, they did some writing at home about one or two they felt most passionate about in preparation for class when they came to a consensus as a group around one project. One class chose to send up the water of different temperatures, another wanted to send up a sound to determine if it changes at altitude, and the last class decided on marshmallows. After this students picked their teams – Science, Data Science, Engineering, Communication, Event Logistics, and Flight Management. Each week, the teams did more work getting the payload ready. Through video conferencing, the students were able to get feedback from Ted, who was our expert. After about 5 weeks of once a week conferencing, we moved to work on our project every day as the launch got closer.

Leading up to the experiment, each class went through many design iterations, test runs, and logistical discussions. We ended up pushing our launch date because it rained for weeks on end in San Francisco. Finally, we secured at date and location, and our teams were making their final adjustments to the payload. Our flight management team called the FAA and we were ok to go! Launch day was a huge success by not only getting our balloon up but hosting an event with our whole grade, parents, and the kindergarteners – our partners in this experiment. The students felt hugely successful at the end of this journey. They made 90% of the decisions in this project and were truly collaborating on a final product. We are already looking forward to next year!

Written by Sara Melman

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