Riverview Grade School to Launch Weather Balloon to the Edge of Earth’s atmosphere

Spring Bay, IL—Up, up and away! Science teacher Emily Dawson and her junior high students at Riverview Grade School are pushing the boundaries of their classroom to the very edge of the earth’s atmosphere. In an exciting, hands-on learning experience, the students will be launching their own weather balloon 100,000 feet up to collect weather data, take photos and see their world from an entirely new perspective.

The launch will take place Wednesday, May 22 at the Caterpillar Inc. Edwards Demonstration and Learning Center in front of an audience of 300 students from East Peoria, Metamora and Brimfield. Students will gather beginning at 9:00 a.m. for set-up, assembly and related activities, and the launch will take place between 10-10:30 a.m. Teachers, students and citizens everywhere will be able to witness the morning’s activities, from set-up to loss of visible flight trajectory, through a webcast on the WTVP-Public Media website, www.wtvp.org. Balloon flight can then be tracked online at www.wtvp.org and www.dawsonscience.com.

WTVP, central Illinois’ public television station, will also create a program around the launch, including footage of the launch box recovery as captured by a film crew from WILL, the public broadcasting station out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The program will be broadcast around the beginning of the new school year, and will be made available for classroom use and online.

The project was inspired by Dawson’s use of PBS LearningMedia—a free digital library of more than 30,000 classroom-ready, curriculum targeted materials that range from video and audio clips to suggested interactive activities to valuable resources from PBS, libraries, government agencies and major universities. “I’m a space nut,” said Dawson, “and I’m always looking for crazy, hands-on activities to get the kids excited about science. When I ran across this balloon launch idea on PBS LearningMedia, I knew we had to do it. From research to design to tracking the balloon in flight, there’s just so much science potential. Plus, we’ll be sending something to outer space. How cool is that?”

The balloon itself is approximately five feet in diameter when filled with helium. It will be attached to a launch box that will be equipped with multiple HD cameras, a tracking device and data logger for collecting weather information (including temperature, humidity, altitude and atmospheric pressure). The payload will also include logos and some lightweight items from participating schools and stations. “Just so we can say we have something that’s been to outer space,” Dawson added.

Upward flight is estimated to last 80-97 minutes and will be monitored up to 80,000 feet, the limit of the GPS tracking signal. The flight goal is at least 100,000 feet, so the unit will be out of communication until it reaches a low enough atmospheric pressure to expand and pop the balloon. The GPS tracking will resume on descent at 80,000 feet, allowing a recovery team to find the returning launch box.

The launch is the central focus of a multidiscipline unit on weather, using science, language arts, and literature classes cooperatively to plan, research, analyze and report on the real world application of the information taught within the classroom.

The school project was made possible through funding from PNC’s FirstGrant to Riverview Junior High teachers Emily Dawson, JoAnn Lowry-Emery and Luann Kuehn. The FirstGrant program is designed to help classroom teachers throughout central Illinois accomplish creative and innovative projects they would otherwise be unable to fund because of budget limitations, and it is supported by the Ruby K. Worner Trust and the PNC Foundation, which receives its principal funding from The PNC Financial Services Group (NYSE: PNC).

The helium required to fill the balloon was provided by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and arranged by WILL-TV. The launch site and equipment are courtesy of Caterpillar Inc. Production and broadcast made possible by WTVP-Public Media with support from WILL.

The live WTVP webcast will be archived for future viewing at www.wtvp.org. People can also follow the day’s events on Twitter, #dawsonsciencewtvp



About WTVP
WTVP-Public Media, Central Illinois’ PBS station, has been serving the community since 1971 through broadcast, services and educational outreach. Now, WTVP also provides quality educational content to the world at www.wtvp.org, Facebook (facebook.com/wtvp.org) and Twitter (@WTVP).



For more information about the Riverview Grade School weather balloon project, contact Emily Dawson, Junior High Science Teacher/Project Coordinator at (309) 822-8550 or (309) 361-1046.

For more information about the webcast, broadcast or PBS LearningMedia, contact Linda Miller, WTVP VP Programming at (309) 495-0591 or linda.miller@wtvp.org.


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