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OES gets a memorable physics lesson

by CJ Carnacchio

October 19, 2011

From the basket of the Re/Max hot air balloon (shown right), Oxford resident Shawn Raya gives OES third-graders a lesson in force, gravity, friction, push and pull. Photos by C.J. Carnacchio.
Oxford Elementary had a special visitor last week that was seven stories tall and filled with 90,000 cubic feet of hot air.

But it wasn't a fairy tale giant or a politician seeking votes; it was a hot air balloon.

Shawn Raya, 38, of Oxford, brought one of the colorful balloons he flys to the school to give the third-graders a practical lesson in force, gravity, friction, push and pull.

"Physics is a very abstract concept, especially for 8-year-olds, so we wanted to use something they would remember forever," said teacher Kelly Dorman.

Raya's been flying in hot air balloons since 1983. He got his student pilot license when he was just 14 years old. Over the years, he's given rides to more than 5,000 passengers.

Today, Raya's one the top competitive balloonists in the country. He finished 9th at the U.S. Nationals in August and is currently ranked third overall in the nation.

Raya's waiting to hear if he'll be able to compete in the world championship when Battle Creek hosts the event next year.

Raya, whose son Joshua is a third-grader at OES, jumped at the opportunity to share his knowledge and his love of ballooning with the students. "Ballooning is my passion and in order to keep the sport going you have to educate people," he said.

Dorman said Raya's visit fits in nicely with the International Baccalaureate (IB) unit the students are currently studying. It's called "How the World Works" and it ties physics and geography together.

Third-grader Ellie DiMalanta said the central idea of the unit is "forces change the world and impact the way we live."

Not only does a hot air balloon demonstrate many of the concepts the students are studying, it gives them a connection to everyday life.

"They see hot air balloons flying around Oxford all the time," Dorman said. "We knew it was something they could relate to."