November STEM Activities

Thanksgiving morning in my house growing up was filled with wonderous smells. Stuffing, turkey, pumpkin pie, and wonderous yams with marshmallow topping. While all that goodness was cooking, we would sit down with our coffee and sweet rolls and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  The unique part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was the huge balloons. It all started with Felix the Cat in 1927.  When I was a kid, the balloon I wanted to see was Snoopy. Each generation has its special balloon.  Melissa Sweets book, Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade, tells the story of the puppeteer, Tony Sarg, and how his balloon became the tradition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  In the Spirit of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, here are our November STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) activities:

Inflate a Balloon

The big balloons used in the parade use anywhere from 300,000 to 700,000 cubic feet of Helium.  Using this much Helium in every balloon costs a minimum of $510,000 dollars. Additionally, each balloon can take up to 90 minutes to fill and requires 50 to 90 volunteer handlers. Because of this, our project will utilize a different type of gas.

To inflate a balloon, you will need a few items: Funnel, baking soda, vinegar, a two-liter bottle, and a balloon.  Start by utilizing the funnel to add 1/3 cup baking soda to the inside of a balloon. Then fill the two-liter bottle with approximately 1 cup of vinegar. Last, attach the balloon to the mouth of the plastic bottle and lift the balloon upright so the baking soda falls into the vinegar, causing a chemical reaction.

But how does the balloon inflate? The vinegar and the baking soda, when mixed together, create an acid-base reaction. This reaction creates carbon dioxide, which expands up and out of the bottle to inflate the balloon.  The balloon is now filled with carbon dioxide gas, which is heavier than oxygen, so this balloon will not fly away or fall to ground. This balloon also will not float.

Decorate Your Balloon

The creation of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Balloon is an in-depth process. Staffers start by molding their ideas into clay, which allows them to calculate how much Helium the balloon will need to float. They then utilize the mold to create a plastic balloon. Fun fact: before there was plastic, the balloons were made of rubber! To create our balloon, we are going to utilize a simplistic papier-mâché recipe, which is non-toxic and inexpensive. Most of these supplies can be found in the kitchen. The supplies you will need are a bowl, a spoon or a whisk, flour, and water. To make the paste, you will need one part flour and two parts water. Start by pouring the flour and water in a large bowl and stir it well. The consistency should be thin like pancake batter. Make sure there are no lumps left by using the whisk. Add as much water as needed to mix to make the mixture runny like white glue (make sure it is not thick like a paste). Store the glue in a covered bowl or jar in the refrigerator for a few days.

You now need your balloon, newspaper, and your cooled papier-mâché mixture. Blow up the balloon and tie it off. Take the newspaper and dip it into the papier-mâché mixture, getting it wet.  Now place the newspaper on the balloon. Cover the entire balloon with papier-mâché mixture and put on as many additional coatings as you desire. When the papier-mâché mixture dries, you can take acrylic paint or spray paint to decorate the balloon. Have fun and be creative!

Additional Research on Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Popular Science – https://www.popsci.com/science-and-engineering-macys-thanksgiving-day-balloons/

Newsweek – https://www.newsweek.com/science-behind-macys-thanksgiving-day-parade-balloons-helium-plastic-718837

Mentalfloss – http://mentalfloss.com/article/71548/16-fun-facts-about-macys-thanksgiving-day-parade

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