In which Miss Molly builds a hovercraft.

Greetings and salutations, internet friends, library lovers, and book enthusiasts!

I am coming to you today to report on yet another successful, and oh so fun, Mangled Messes program. I don’t know how I lucked out, but I have a really fantastic bunch of kids so far this year. They are adventurous, willing to have fun and get a little messy, and not afraid to make mistakes if it helps them get the answer. I love this attitude. So many kids that I come across are hesitant to try something new that may not give them the right answer.

But, as I always tell them, failure is the key to learning! I may not know how to make bread, but I know 100 ways NOT to make it, and that’s something.

This month, we tackled hovercrafts, air pressure, and all manner of things. I got the kids to use the glue gun all by themselves, AND there may or may not have been a water splashing incident. It was only water though, so really it was fine.

We talked about lift and drag and did some really awesome experiments to visually demonstrate it. I know I have a hard time thinking about lift and drag when it’s just illustrated on paper. I need to physically see it. Creating this month’s MM definitely clarified it for me (and I think for the kids too).

I took a yard stick, 2 balloons, and string. I blew up the balloons and tied them off. Then attached them to the yard stick with sting, until they were hanging about 6-7 inches apart.

We talked about air pressure, and how it can create lift and showed all the regular diagrams, but the kids kind of looked at me like how I felt when I first doing research…a bit old “Huh?!”

So, I showed them the set up I made and asked them what they thought would happen if we blew air through the space between the balloons. The unanimous answer was that they would be pushed farther part, or that they would spin.20141203_193322

So, I took a straw and blew. When the air passed through the space between the balloons, they moved closer together! Much to the Messers’ amazement. This is because the air pressure drops between them, and they are pushed toward one another by the heavier air pressure on either side of them.


Yes, they spun a little bit, but that’s because we couldn’t keep the stream of air constant…since our lungs only hold a finite amount of air themselves. Anyway, everyone wanted a turn. And we experimented further. I asked them if the result would change if we moved the balloons farther apart. The Messers said that the balloons might not move together if they got to far apart. So we tested it. As we didn’t have anything stronger than our lungs, we did reach a point when the balloons wouldn’t move any closer together, though the kids did wonder if we had something stronger to move the air whether or not they would move together again.

We did a few other experiments along this vein and then moved on to making our very own hovercrafts which relied on air to create a cushion and scoot along. We used scratched up CDs, water bottle spouts, and balloons to create our crafts–hence the glue guns.

There are numerous tutorials around the web on how to create your own CD hovercraft, and they are all super simple. I would definitely recommend using the water spout because it controls the amount of air that flows out and gives you a little more control over your craft.

Basically, you take an old CD hot glue (or super glue) the water spout to it. Make sure the the nozzle is pointed up, not stuck through the center of the CD. Let it dry completely. 20141203_195340

Next, make sure that the spout is closed. Then blow up your balloon. Pinching the end so air doesn’t leak out, attach the balloon to the water spout on the CD so that the edges are completely around the spout. When you let go, there should be no air leaking out. 20141203_201422

When you are ready, find a flat, smooth surface, lift the spout, and give your craft a push! It should glide over the table/floor/counter top with ease!

Seriously, so much fun. And, relatively in expensive. Our library has all sorts of damaged CDs, so we are recycling. It’s a great way to reuse materials, as well as to illustrate fun science concepts. Not to mention that it’s fun.

I closed the program, as I close every Mangled Messes, by asking “What did we learn?”

And the response I got?

“That air is awesome.”

You can’t ask for anything better than that/

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