How Hot Air Balloons Helped with Class

In this crazy world where kids have to go to school on Zoom via a computer at home, many teachers are finding it hard to make learning interesting. One way the professional community can help is by offering to be a guest speaker in an online class. This happened to me out of the blue last summer, and brought real benefit to a class of eight- and nine-year-olds in Southern California.

It was early July when a fellow hot air balloon pilot asked if I would talk to her nine-year-old granddaughter’s class at the Gate Academy in San Rafael, California, about flying hot air balloons. The class was studying flying and lighter-than-air aircraft, so I agreed to help, and on July 24, I jumped into their class via Zoom.

I briefly explained how balloons worked and how we have to manage weather and landing sites. The learning suddenly changed directions when I told them I had assembled a few pictures but was not sure how to display them on Zoom. Leave it to kids to know all about that! They began telling me all at once what I needed to do to display my pictures. It was great! I was eventually able to show them pictures of my balloon and other balloons of all different shapes and sizes.

The kids had all sorts of intelligent questions such as, How high do you go, How fast do you go, How do wind currents make a difference to your flight, How do you transport your balloon, Do you fly alone or with passengers, and Is your basket big enough to “social distance”? (Who would have thought that would be a part of a child’s vocabulary just a year ago?) I was very impressed by the insight in their questions.

Another good question was, What kind of animals do you see from the air and what was your favorite animal sighting? I showed them a picture of a herd of elk in the foreground with my balloon on the ground behind them. They were very excited about that. It was then that I realized how beneficial it can be to share our professional knowledge and enthusiasm with elementary school students who are struggling with online classes. Many elementary school teachers are not comfortable with virtual online classes and are very grateful to have guest speakers. I learned firsthand that Zoom can easily accommodate a guest speaker.

The impact of our time together really hit home when I received a thank-you card from the class in an email. It took me a while to figure out why there was a drawing of an elk, but then I remembered the story I had told. I absolutely love the card and even printed it and have it hanging on the wall above my desk.

This card, and the experience we shared, showed me how much of an impression real-world experience can leave on a young mind, even in an online classroom setting. So if you have the opportunity, jump into that online environment. Volunteer to share your expertise with students, and I know you will experience first-hand the joy that it brings — to them and to you.

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