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Balloon Cars and Pompom Poppers

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Physics Volunteer Activities
Main Image
Physics Volunteer Activities
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Time Needed for Activity

Students build pompom poppers and balloon cars to learn about forces causing movement.

This activity is set for the Ontario Grade 3 curriculum.

Note: it does require students to not wear a mask to blow up balloons - this is not ideal for every teacher. It can be modified where students just push the car and take the balloon home and do some of the learning at home. Modifications for the cars for students learning at home are given.

What You Need

Activity 1: Pompom Poppers

  • Pompoms (3-4 per student)
  • Paper cup with the end cut out (1 per student)
  • 1 balloon with about 1-1.5 cm at the end cut off per student (not the neck end)
  • 3 rolls of electrical tape per class (if the teacher can distribute the tape); if the teacher cannot distribute the tape and kits are being done individually for each students, they should include a roll of scotch type tape

Activity 2: Balloon Cars

  • Small piece of cardboard (rectangle about 3 inches by 4 inches roughly) - per student (this is the car body)
  • 1 1/2 piece of a large diameter straw with 1 balloon attached using an elastic to the end that is not cut (per student)
  • 2 sets of wheels on axles (per student) - note: the wheels come off
  • 2 pieces of wide diameter straw (about 1/3 of a straw for each piece) - per student
  • 4-6 rolls of Scotch tape per class (each student needs 4-6 pieces about 5cm each to attach the 2 straw pieces to the bottom of the car and another piece or two to attach the straw to the balloon)
  • If students have their own markers, they could use these to decorate their cars
  • Extra pompoms for testing
  • Extra balloons in case some break

Guide:

Safety Notes

As a Let’s Talk Science volunteer, safety must be foremost in our minds during all activities. As STEM role models, volunteers must always also model safe science practices.

Always keep in mind the following precautions:

  • Emphasize and demonstrate appropriate safety procedures throughout the presentation.
  • Be professional but have fun.
  • Keep workspaces clean to avoid tripping hazards.
  • Allergens should have been checked before reserving the kit (e.g. allergies to latex balloons).
  • Activity Specific Safety: Ask students to not aim their pompom popper at others.

What To Do

Activity 1: Pompom Poppers

Distribute a cup, pieces of tape, and a balloon with the end cut off to each student. To create their pompom popper, each student will: 

  1. Turn the cup with the hole in the bottom upside down. 
  2. Place the balloon that has the end cut off over the base of the cup - Show them how to put two hands into the cut end of the balloon so they can stretch it out wider than the base of the cup.
  3. Put the tap around the balloon and the cup to hold the balloon on.
  4. Tie a knot in the balloon at the neck.
  5. Use a crayon/marker to put their name on their cup.

Now students can launch their popper by placing pompoms in the cup and pulling back at the balloon. 

Activity 2: Balloon Cars

Distribute one piece of cardboard, 2 small straw pieces and tape to the students. To create the balloon car, each student will:

  1. Decorate the cardboard with the crayons or their markers and put their name on it.
  2. Add two straws, one near each of the long ends of the rectangle and tape with scotch tape. Be sure these are parallel and taped securely. If the straws can move, the axles will also move and the car won't go straight.
  3. Take one wheel off one end of one set of wheels and axles and slide it through one of the straws.
  4. Do the same with the other set of wheels and the second straw. 
  5. Turn the car over.
  6. Tape the straw with the balloon on it so the straw hangs off the cardboard and don't put tape on the balloon.

Now students can blow up the balloon and hold the end of the straw gently so the air doesn't escape. Place their car on the floor and let go. Have students test their car by blowing up the balloon to varying fullness to see how far their car will travel.

Discovery

Forces are acting on us and other objects all the time. When an object is at rest (not in motion) all forces are balanced. When an object is moving, the forces are unbalanced.

When more force is added to the pompom popper (by pulling on the balloon) the pompom flies further in the air. The pompom eventually falls due to the force of gravity. Gravity is the force that pulls things down.

When more force is added to the balloon car (blowing up the balloon more), the car travels further. The car eventually stops due to the force of friction. Friction is a force that acts in opposite of the movement, it works to slow an object down.

What's Happening?

Forces are acting on us and other objects all the time. When an object is at rest (not in motion) all forces are balanced. When an object is moving, the forces are unbalanced.

When more force is added to the pompom popper (by pulling on the balloon) the pompom flies further in the air. The pompom eventually falls due to the force of gravity. Gravity is the force that pulls things down.

When more force is added to the balloon car (blowing up the balloon more), the car travels further. The car eventually stops due to the force of friction. Friction is a force that acts in opposite of the movement, it works to slow an object down.