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The City Journals

Up, up and away: Quail Hollow’s launch benefits students, robotics team

Sep 17, 2018 03:06PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Quail Hollow students help to prepare the high-altitude balloon before launch. (Photo courtesy of Spencer Clegg)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

This fall, Quail Hollow Elementary’s students may be ahead of other First Lego League teams as the season begins. 

That’s because after last year’s team, which advanced from the regional qualifier to compete at the northern state contest, took part in a balloon payload launch. 

GE electrical engineer and parent volunteer Spencer Clegg, who along with Kyle Moore has coached the team the past two seasons, decided to share their expertise as engineers with the entire student body to expose them to more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning. 

“Our main objective is to spark the interest in STEM for the entire school and community,” Clegg said. “We were teaching students and parents the STEM principles and getting them excited about engineering, math and science. It’s rare to have classes in these areas at this age, but it sparks their interest.” 

Principal Shad DeMill said Clegg approached him more than one year in advance to launch a high-altitude balloon payload. 

“He pitched the idea to me one year ago to give our boys and girls more skills,” DeMill said in May. “We have about 50 kids and their parents meeting this spring and are excited about launching a payload balloon. It’s an experiment they’ll always remember.” 

Clegg said it took about a year for him to research, learn about the equipment needed, understand the FAA guidelines and prepare the project for the school. He also went to other launches in the state to gather information and see what worked. 

Then, he invited parents, who were enthusiastic to help guide students and bring lessons for the whole group to learn. They met for at least 90 minutes weekly during the spring as well as worked on projects on their own to bring back to the group. 

“We learned about space principles such as the laws of buoyancy as well as about the layers of the atmosphere, about GPS and ham radios. We studied elevation, flight speed and temperature. Then, we worked on the balloons and used algorithms to figure out where it would land and that was always changing. We looked at NOAA sites to understand the jet stream, wind and weather considerations,” he said. 

The group also went to the Clark Planetarium, where after watching a show in the Hansen Dome Theatre, they were asked questions about space and their project. 

“It really motivated them to learn more about space and understand the scope of how big space is,” Clegg said.

Days before, the group was planning to go to Delta for the launch. But a shift of weather had them shuffle to Tremonton, where there was no wind and no chance of getting into restricted air space. 

The payload included a ham radio with tracking device, four GoPro cameras with 100 GB of video and a bag of Legos. 

“We had a Lego figure in the Styrofoam container for each child who helped plan the event so they could keep something that went up in space,” Clegg said. 

DeMill went with the group and livestreamed the May 18 launch so others back at school could watch.

“There was so much excitement after all the prep leading up to that moment,” Clegg said. 

The payload took two hours to reach 104,000 feet above sea level. The group tracked it with a live tracker on their cell phones and followed it in cars. It took an hour for it to touch down within miles of the launch site. 

Quail Hollow Elementary’s high-altitude balloon took images of Utah as it reached 104,000 feet above sea level. (Photo courtesy of Spencer Clegg)

 “It landed up a hill. Thankfully, all the kids ran up to get it,” he said. 

After it returned to Earth, the kids put their hands in the Stryofoam container and learned it was still cold since it reached 40 below Celsius, Clegg said, adding that the success of the launch has the school looking at doing another one in April 2020, ahead of the school testing schedule, and they will study different concepts such as simple telemetry and pressure. 

“It’s a benefit for our team that we are able to reach out to our community and share our interest in STEM. It’s a good switch for them to go from super competitive and doing it all, to step back, have fun and learn from others. Now, with this year’s theme being centered around interactions in space, it’s good to have that knowledge already so we have a basis to go from,” he said. 

Quail Hollow’s First Lego League team meets weekly through January. Each member has use of a laptop and a robot clone of the school’s robot so they can work on programming and other parts of the competition individually as well as collectively. 

“FLL isn’t just the EV3 and programming the robot, but it encompasses team management, merging code, learning to blend different personalities with the project and core values,” Clegg said. “By the second year, it’s second nature to write recursive, which some high school and college students don’t even know. This is giving students a greater opportunity than they have had before.”