Building towers and other structures is always a great STEM activity. You encounter different challenges depending on the building material you use. Some of our favorites are LEGOs, playing cards, uncooked spaghetti with marshmallows, and paper cups. We recently tried out twisting balloons as a tower material, and it was quite an interesting experience! This activity definitely falls under the STEAM realm, as the finished samples are seriously fun works of art.
All you need to get started are twisting balloons and a balloon pump. You will only want to fill the balloons about 80% of the way, and then let a little air out of them before tying the knot. This drastically decreases the likelihood of accidentally popping any balloons. If you haven’t twisted balloons before, a little practice does help. Try not to increase the pressure too much in the portion you are twisting – you can try pushing the air down toward the “tail” of the balloon. As long as there is another place for the air to go, the balloon should hold up. Of course it’s always possible to pop one of these despite your best efforts, so please don’t do this activity if you have noise-sensitive kiddos. If you are doing this activity with young children, you will be doing most of the work (have them pump up the balloon, but you’ll probably need to tie the knot and help with the twisting).
You never really know what you’re going to get with these structures! What you think is the base may turn into the top. You can use these in a variety of lessons, from matter (gases), to volume, to static electricity! You can even have your students try to build a balloon structure that will take the longest to fall from an upper story (think parachutes) or one that can keep a plastic egg intact from a drop height (egg drop challenge).
Other fun ideas are to combine multiple structures together, or suspend them from string from the ceiling (preferably near a window with sunlight, because they are just amazing when the sun shines through them).
There are some AMAZING balloon structures out there. For more, visit these sites:
- Carbon nanotube (or just the image here)
- Use regular balloons and tape
- Miniature Eiffel Tower? Woohoo! This is advanced but pretty stinkin’ amazing!