Thursday
May
19
One Day Only
May 19, 2022

Fifth-grade students will launch Wheeling Country Day School’s 8th annual weather balloon in honor of our dear friend Josiah Titus-Glover that passed away.

 

What started out eight years ago as a supplemental project to document other projects has quickly morphed into one of the signature annual events at Wheeling Country Day School. After a two week period of goal setting and overviews of weather and high altitude flight, fifth graders are then broken into project teams such as ‘Launch’, ‘Recovery’, and ‘Public Relations’ in order to cover all aspects of the sprawling endeavor. Students are immersed in every detail of the project, from researching safety regulations and legalities to analyzing jet stream forecasts and flight prediction models to purchasing equipment and designing the payload, making this a truly unique, child-led experience each year. Launch Day is a public exhibition in which the previous 12 weeks of learning is put to the test in front of a large audience. It is pressure-filled and exciting and each year brings a different set of challenges to overcome.

 

During the first year of our project, just before launch, one of our most inventive students passed away unexpectedly. Because he was so invested in this project, his parents requested the balloon be launched following his funeral and the project suddenly took on an entirely different turn. That year we launched JoJo I, renamed in his honor, and since then Launch Day has become a day of remembrance as well as a day of celebration. All the anxiety and concern in the buildup to launch is released along with the payload while the eyes of the entire crowd raise to see the sky.

 

After launch, our students analyze data from GPS trackers attached to the payload to track and recover the equipment, including cameras. These images show the curvature of the Earth as well as a view of their hometowns rarely seen, providing what we hope is an inspirational look at fields in science and tech. This project also changes the fundamental idea of science class. All the vocabulary and content knowledge become secondary to the action. It’s immersive. Students embrace the curiosity of their classmates but challenge each other with hard questions. They argue over project goals and discover problems before they’re asked to solve them. They feel the materials, from the balloon to the line to the payload and insulation. They unbox and test electronics instead of being handed charged, ready-to-click cameras. They document the process and even smell the odd odor of a balloon burst at 100,000 feet. It’s a five-sense experience beyond that of any chapter in any textbook.