Elementary students took science to the skies Saturday during an event that focused on the mechanics of flight.

More than 100 students showed up at McKinley Elementary to learn about how things get up in the air and stay there through a number of activities. The event was in the spirit of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — learning and was organized by Billings School District 2 faculty.

"This is the first go-around for this particular type of event," said Jamie Nixdorf, a math and science coach for the school district.

She said that a group of teachers got together after attending the Mickelson Teacher's Academy, an annual summit for elementary teachers that focuses on math and science curriculum. 

They modeled Billings STEM after STEM NOLA, a New Orleans-based event that hosts science activities for students. It was created by Calvin Mackie, a Tulane University engineering professor who spoke in Billings earlier this year.

Nixdorf said they filled a roster of attendees and volunteers quickly after announcing the Billings event.

"Once we put the call out, people were like 'I can do this, I can do that,'" she said.

About 60 volunteers and area sponsors supported the event.

After an introductory message, the kids broke into smaller groups. In the school gymnasium, the kids learned about the forces of thrust and drag that affect airplanes. Then they put small, wooden model planes together and sent them flying.

Eight-year-old Damon Thinelt was among those watching his plane soar. He noted that it repeatedly took a leftward route.

"It kind of turned a little bit," he said.

On another floor, other kids learned about the mechanics of hot air balloons, and how the hot and cold air make it move. Then they sat down to make their own balloons with tissue paper.

Third-grader Kenneth Fisher worked with a volunteer to delicately craft his balloon. He said they will use propane gas to heat the inside and give the vessel its lift.

He said it takes some focus to make a good hot air balloon.

"Make sure that we follow the directions and glue the seams well," 8-year-old Fisher said about the process.

Once outside, the students were treated to a presentation on an actual hot air balloon. They stood in the basket and examined the hot air unit.

Other activities included a tabletop wind tunnel, courtesy of the Montana Department of Transportation. Students made paper wings and placed them in the tunnel to see what affects the lift and flight against airflow.

And as a finale, ZooMontana brought some birds of flight to show how the animal world takes to the sky.

Nixdorf said they hope to host multiple events like this in the future. The next STEM Billings event is scheduled for February, and she said registration slots already are filling up.



Reporter for The Billings Gazette.