This is a serious post. Never do this. Ever. The idea seemed terrific at first. I had seen a beautiful ice sculpture at a wedding reception and thought, “My kids would love to work with ice!” And I had a perfect tie-in with reading: each student could create a character from the book they were reading. I wasn’t going to give them a chainsaw, obviously, so I needed a way for them to make ice shapes larger than cubes. Then it came to me! Balloons! Like an ice snowman, a small balloon could freeze into the shape for a head, a medium one for the trunk, and long ones for arms. My assistant had some doubts, but she saw the moving train and jumped on board. My next inspiration for this wonderfully creative project was the addition of color. Who wanted a transparent book character when they could make a red or blue one? Even as we started the process, the project began to derail. First, there was the challenge of herding half a dozen frenzied kids with balloons and a hose. For some reason, the project deteriorated into water balloons tosses for a period of time. And once we all got serious about this enterprise, adding food coloring to the balloons led to a serious collision. A collision between tiny balloon openings that squirted water and food coloring that also squirted and stained everyone’s faces, hands, and clothes. I reassured the kids that all they needed was a bath for their skin color to return to normal, but we all looked tattooed for several days. Still, it was going to be worth it, right? Even as we worked away on math and writing with purplish fingers, our potential sculptures were firming up in the giant cafeteria freezer. Back on track.
The exciting day finally arrived and my assistant returned to the room with our bin of balloons. She shook her head as I snatched the balloons eagerly. Each student had carefully written their names on the balloons, so it was easy to distribute them. I do regret that we tried to complete this project indoors, even though students had trays as a work surface. We all quickly noticed what my assistant had already detected: the ice was not completely frozen. I was in a state of denial. Three days in that freezer? The wateriness in the balloons must surely be superficial. I would have frozen solid in that freezer after three days. With shouts of joy, the kids attempted to peel off the balloons so they could “melt” the body parts together. It would take a physics instructor to explain what had happened to the balloons’ texture in that freezer; they were suddenly as thick and sturdy as leather. No one could free their “ice.” I grabbed a paper clip and made a deadly point. The kids crowded around to have their balloons punctured. As the clip pierced each balloon, a fierce spray of colored water burst forth from those tiny holes. Who could have imagined? Cold read and blue spray splattered over me, over every kid, over the room…. (In all fairness, I couldn’t puncture some balloons and not the others. Besides, I was still convinced that they must be frozen!) My kids all ran after me obediently, spraying wildly, as I raced outside. The train derailed right there. A few lumps of ice amidst soggy, leathery balloons and a crowd of brightly colored, laughing students. My assistant was not amused. I was somewhere in between.