Couple uses balloons to operate simple machines
Franklin Park, 12/14/12--Smarty Pants holds up a "bicycle" that he made from balloons. North School hosted a science assembly Friday featuring an explanation of simple machines by Smarty Pants and Miss Dena using only balloons. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 21, 2013 2:33PM
FRANKLIN PARK — A man wearing a red Shriners hat and a blue vest comes out from behind the screen juggling balls.
He blows up a long balloon that turns into a red cane. He balances a balloon on his nose and shapes another balloon into a mouse.
Everyone should have such an enthusiastic audience even though this one is sitting on a gym floor. Applause, yells and shouts follow the man. And that’s just the warm-up.
The man calls himself “Smarty Pants” — “We don’t give out our non-stage names” — and his wife “Miss Dena.” Finished with the warm-up, the two begin the real topic of their presentation to students at North elementary school in Franklin Park.
That topic is simple machines.
“The aim is to give kids knowledge about simple machines according to Illinois science standards,” he said. “And how simple machines can be made into more complex machines.”
To do that, the they use balloons. They start off with the basic: lever, wheel, pulley, inclined plane and screw.
The lever, for example, is a long balloon demonstrated on the back on a kneeling third- grader. A “wheel” made of two balloons is rolled along like a wheelbarrow by a girl in a Park District T-shirt. Two girls demonstrate a balloon pulley that looks like a laundry line.
A demonstration of kinetic energy involves letting go of untied balloons. The finale is a Rube Goldberg creation of balloons that aims to catch a mouse. It takes eight students and more balloons than you’d find at a birthday party, but the mouse — a teacher wearing a balloon hat — is caught.
“It seems like two separate things, science and balloons,” Smarty Pants said. He adds that he has a degree in geology from Columbia University in New York and that he and his wife do these presentations full time.