Over the past several weeks, visitors to Andrew Morris’ eighth grade science classroom might have thought it more closely resembled a craftsman’s workspace with all the pvc pipe, lumber, tools, accessories, and design plans covering the tables; the sawdust and wood chunks coating the floor; and the distinct sound of power tools filling the air. The reason? A hands-on STEM project that engaged students in the engineering design process as they worked collaboratively in teams to design and build catapults.
While the history of catapults dates back to ancient times, the basic principles of propulsion remain the same. Catapult physics is basically the use of stored energy (tension, torsion, and gravity) to hurl projectiles through the air. For Morris’ project, students had to test their devices for distance and accuracy.
“The catapult project is a tangible example of physics, including Newton’s law,” explained Morris. “Over the course of the project, students completed a project log and calculated the speed of their ping-pong balls during the testing phase.”
Along with science, the project teaches students about teamwork, follow-through, and problem-solving. It also helps boost their self-confidence. “At the start of the project, there is usually a mix of nervousness and excitement from students about drawing up their own plans and bringing them to fruition. Once the machines are completed, however, those feelings are replaced with a sense of pride because of what they have accomplished, which is a good thing, because while I don’t expect all my students to become scientists, I have a strong desire for each of them to enjoy learning about science while in my classroom,” stated Morris.
Morris’ desire to ignite in students an interest in science extends beyond his classroom, and even the Middle School. Each year, Morris adds a cross-age learning component to the project by inviting the different Lower School classes to observe the catapult test sessions.
“We look forward to attending this science experience every year,” remarked Early Childhood Center (ECC) teacher Barbara Leite. “Our ECC children have the privilege of watching how older students work hard, respect their teachers, and welcome visitors into their class. For the eighth graders, it’s a chance to serve the school community by sharing what they have learned with younger Chargers. The catapults also relate to the ECC’s study of simple machines. There are so many benefits to cross-age activities,” concluded Leite.