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Rachel Cleveland (right) pointed out a measurement Wednesday as her teammate Nat

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news Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

Pop bottle rockets, baking soda and vinegar volcano eruptions and mousetrap cars; hands-on learning in science classrooms at its best. They’re projects that as kids we all knew and enjoyed because of the interactive learning environment and the excitement built when the building is all done. Now, Forestview Middle School has taken that excitement thousands of feet higher with its new after-school High Altitude Balloon Launch Club, taking place this spring.

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“I’ve always wanted to take kids to that next level,” said Cory Olson, seventh grade engineering teacher and one of the leaders of the newly adapted club. “To be able to offer kids that get excited about math and sciences another outlet and provide them with hands-on learning techniques such as this, it’s very exciting.”

The brainchild of Olson and fellow Forestview teacher Jim Reed, the weekly club of seventh and eighth grade students began working on creating a 600g helium balloon to carry a payload of up to three pounds just one week ago. A multimedia instructor, Reed had seen dozens of high altitude balloon launches online when he approached Olson with the idea last summer. Taking the idea to the top — Forestview Principal Jon Anderson — the concept was quickly accepted.

“Jon Anderson was onboard right away,” said Olson, who has taught seventh grade engineering for the past six years. “He’s excited about the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) focus we will have. Not only him, but the entire community has supported this 100 percent from day one.”

Community support was brought in the form of Al Doree, a member of the Brainerd Area Amateur Radio Club who volunteered to serve as the group’s GPS and radio expert. Doree will aid in tracking the balloon’s payload after it’s released from the diminished balloon upwards of 60,000 feet in the air.

While Olson, Reed and Doree will oversee the club of 13 as they piece together a payload consisting of a digital camera, high altitude tracking device and RTrak-HAB device (all at zero cost to the students in the club), it’s the kids who are still doing most of the work.

“We’re going to really learn a lot from this,” said eighth grader, Devin Makey. “It’s something that sounds really fun but a lot of work is being put in to it too.”

Dealing with measurements, figures and technological devices that may appear to be over even some adults’ heads, Olson assures that the project is not something too big for these students.

“A lot of people typically assume that this type of project is too much for a seventh or eighth grade student but really it’s not at all, in fact they’re the best ones for something like this,” Olson explained. “They aren’t afraid to use their imaginations and come up with ways to make (lifting a payload thousands of feet by helium balloon] possible. We’re using their ideas and believe me they’ve got some great ones.”

Week in and week out, the High Altitude Launch Club will continue to build and learn the best way to create their balloon carrier until its launch date, set for March. A launch that will be a first for both leaders and students in this one of a kind club.

“My parents wish they had a program like this when they were younger,” said club member Rachel Cleveland. “It’s just too great of an idea not to want to partake in.”

JESSI PIERCE may be reached at 855-5859.

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