This Week From Bedtime Math: Lawn Chair Larry

Sometimes an idea can really take off in an unexpected way. Find out how many balloons is too many balloons in today&s math challenge.
By Laura Overdeck
Jul 09, 2013



This Week From Bedtime Math: Lawn Chair Larry

Jul 09, 2013

What is Bedtime Math? A message from Laura: Bedtime Math is a pretty simple idea: We all know we should read to our kids at night, but what about math? My husband and I have done fun, mischief-loaded math problems with our kids at night for years, and when at age 2 our third child started hollering for his own math problem, we realized we were onto something:  In a world where so many people say, "Ewww, math!" we had created a household culture where kids don't just tolerate math, they actually seek it out. Now we email parents a fun, lively math problem every day to do with their kids – and every week, we'll be posting a new problem right here on Scholastic Parents!

People have always wanted to take flight, but some really do it by the seat of their pants.  31 years ago this week, a guy named Larry Walters decided to build his own homemade flying machine -- by tying 45 giant helium weather balloons to a regular old lawn chair.  He hoped to float about 30 feet above his backyard, then pop the balloons one by one to come back down (yes, this is a true story). Well, his flying machine worked too well.  Larry shot 15,000 feet up into the air, clinging to the chair for dear life (he didn't think to attach a seat belt).  He eventually floated over Los Angeles International Airport, came down enough to get tangled in a power line, and earned himself the nickname Lawn Chair Larry.  While it all ended well, it was truly one of those don't-try-this-at-home stunts. Instead, try challenging your children with these fun math problems:

Wee ones (counting on fingers): Lawn Chair Larry brought along some food, drinks, and other items for his flight. If you bring 3 sandwiches, 2 water bottles, and a pair of binoculars, how many items are you packing for your trip?
Little kids: If Larry could have used 25 fewer balloons to float to the right height, how many balloons would he have needed?  Bonus: If you and you lawn chair weigh 1/5 as much as Larry's load, how many balloons would you have needed to fly to the same height?
Big kids:  If an airplane flying at 32,000 feet had spotted Larry, how many feet would it have had to come down to reach him?  Bonus: If the first balloon he popped brought him down to 11,500 feet, how many feet did he come down?

Wee ones: 6 items for the trip.
Little kids: 20 balloons.  Bonus: 9 balloons (assuming that balloon lift is linear with weight).
Big kids: 17,000 feet.  Bonus: 3,500 feet.

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