Shortly before the 2021-22 school year wrapped up, a group of eighth-grade science students at Matthew Henson Middle School, still had an experiment to complete.

Students in Erin Lewis’s class piloted an experiment meant to demonstrate Newton’s Third Law of Motion — for every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. Thanks to materials donated to the school through a Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA)’s educational outreach program students got to put it that law to the test.

The students — most teamed up with a classmate — were tasked with building a balloon buggy using a sheet of balsa wood, axles, Scotch tape, plastic wheels, drinking straws, and a balloon. After crafting a buggy and using one breath in the balloon to propel it forward, students were challenged to test out the buggy on different surfaces. A few tries and successes on the classroom’s tile floor led to testing the buggies on swatches of carpet and down ramps propped up with textbooks.

Kerry Clark, Ph.D., a deputy director of explosive ordnance engineering at NAVSEA in Indian Head, said using the balloon buggy project is a way to stoke students’ curiosity about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“These are the next generation of scientists and engineers,” Clark said of the middle-school students who head to high school in the fall. “We’re preparing the next round of scientists and engineers I want to hire in the next 15 years.”

The balloon buggy project will likely be introduced at other schools in the fall. “This is the pilot,” Clark said. “Are the kids having fun? Are they learning anything?” She believed they are. “If you lock them in right now, they will carry that momentum with them into high school,” Clark said. “And it’s a heckuva great way to spend a morning.”


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