Design and engineering principles propelled students during a competition at Wenonah Elementary School in which fifth-grade students were challenged to construct a catapult that could perform best in three challenges, testing distance, power and accuracy.
Separated into teams, the student-engineers participated in an engaging design activity that incorporated several aspects of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Beginning with design, students were tasked with sketching two separate plans they believed would obtain the best results. Picking one design, the students then constructed their catapults using household materials such as spoons, rubber bands and popsicle sticks.
Once the creations were finalized, the students then carefully used their catapults to launch miniature pumpkins and competed in three different challenges. The first challenge tested accuracy, in which the goal was to launch five cotton balls into a cup. Next, the power of the catapult was tested as the students pushed their catapults to the limit, launching a marshmallow as far as possible. Finally came the tower test, in which accuracy and power were combined to topple a tower of plastic cups using miniature pumpkins.
Furthering the connection to the design principles necessary to construct a successful catapult, students tracked their test launch results and graphed the effectiveness of angle adjustments and how they correlated to launch distance. Using the data collected from the accuracy test, students also calculated the accuracy percentage derived from fractions.
At the conclusion of the testing phase the students competed amongst each other in a schoolwide competition.