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Corbett Prep Middle School Science Merges Engineering and Imagination

Hands-on STEM learning allows Corbett Prep students to learn through experience.

STEM learning

Students designed structures to protect eggs from a 95-foot fall from the top of Raymond James Stadium.

May 29, 2014 (TAMPA, Fla.) – Middle School teachers at Corbett Preparatory School of IDS are taking STEM learning to new heights.

Two recent projects captured students’ attention and challenged their creativity. An egg drop took seventh and eighth graders to the top of Raymond James Stadium, while a new hot air balloon elective saw class creations soar. The results were memorable Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) lessons that had students fully engaged.

Both assignments merged physics and engineering concepts with design and art. Students conducted experiments, analyzed results, made improvements and tested their ideas again.

The first time a handmade hot air balloon floated to the ceiling, students gasped.

“This is so cool,” seventh-grader Mikayla Jemison said as she watched her team’s balloon take flight.

STEM learning

Balloons needed tightly sealed seams and as little weight as possible to soar the highest.

The hot air balloon elective, for sixth through eighth grades, started simply. Students worked in teams to use tissue paper and glue sticks to build a lightweight cube with an opening in the bottom. When students held the hole over an electric popcorn popper, the hot air would fill the cube until it had enough lift to fly.

Once students mastered the basic construction, they set to work improving their designs to build bigger balloons that would sail farther. They learned to seal all seams tightly to keep the air inside, and they trimmed excess tissue paper to make the balloons as light as possible. Teams tried out new shapes as well, such as tall cylinders and wide rectangles, to see if that changed their results. They took their balloons outside to see how high they would go, which spurred conversations about how temperature and humidity affected the crafts.

Teacher John Palmer divided the class into four teams to encourage collaboration and friendly competition. Students reflected after each attempt on what went right and where they could improve, and they learned from others’ successes and slips.

“What is important is that you take ideas from other people, and you recognize challenges that you have to avoid,” Palmer said.

The egg drop, a popular long-time Middle School tradition, also is organized to prompt students to learn from others and their own experiences.

Students participate in the egg drop two years in a row, giving them two chances to test their designs from Raymond James Stadium. Following certain size and design specifications, the students build structures that can protect one or two eggs as they fall 95 feet from the top of the stadium to the pavement.  Their ingenuity appears in the diversity of designs and materials — paper plates, bubble wrap, foam pool noodles, balloons and more.

In the classroom, the students study concepts such as air friction, gravity and terminal velocity and relate them to their containers, said science teacher Gery Morey.

Both grades also consider an International Baccalaureate (IB) Guiding Question to extend their project to a global level: “What are the consequences of our creations?”

STEM learning

Students followed certain size and design specifications but also exercised creativity in the structures they built.

On the day of the egg drop, they cheered as their containers drifted, and in some cases plummeted, to the ground and waited for a nod or thumbs up from teachers below to see if their eggs survived.

Regardless of the outcomes of the egg drop or balloon lift, the hands-on process helps students gain increased understandings of scientific principles. They also develop an appreciation for the hard work and thought behind successful inventions. Students may choose to keep eggs for cooking or balloons for decorating, but developing the ability to take risks, reflect and try again will serve them throughout life.


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Founded in 1968, Corbett Preparatory School of IDS (formerly Independent Day School - Corbett Campus) is a fully accredited, nonsectarian private school located in Tampa’s Carrollwood neighborhood. The school serves over 500 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and offers the International Baccalaureate program of study for all students. Teachers are endorsed in gifted education through a master’s level grant with the University of South Florida College of Education. Corbett Prep balances a dynamic, nurturing and safe learning environment with high standards and high expectations to develop a positive approach to life and learning. Corbett Prep has become recognized as an exemplary school with over 7,000 visitors observing and learning from Corbett Prep teachers. For more information, visit www.corbettprep.com or contact the Admissions Office at (813) 961-3087.