4th Grade Science Lesson: Catapults!

Let’s be honest—if there’s one thing everybody loves, it’s a good catapult. Few things are more satisfying than choosing one’s favorite projectile, pulling back on a spring-loaded arm, shouting some indistinct battle-cry, and letting fly! With such sentiments firmly in mind, the Providence Engineering Academy set off to the Lower Campus to teach the 4th Grade some basic principles of science and engineering—using catapults.

Tossing aside the temptation to settle for table-top miniatures made of popsicle sticks and elastic bands, the Academy constructed three heavy-duty wooden war machines, with four-foot-long launch arms. Many thanks to sophomore Tys vanZeyl for singlehandedly building one of these himself! The design included custom-made 3D-printed cups to hold the tennis ball projectiles.

Fire! 4th Grade students wisely get out of the way
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)

Let’s be clear: while catapults are a lot of fun (and only slightly dangerous in the wrong hands), this was no mere game. The purpose of the lesson was to show the 4th Graders how changing the input variables produces different outcomes. In this case, the 4th Graders had control over two input variables: 1) the position of the launch arm’s fulcrum, and 2) how far back they pulled the arm. The students recorded their distance for different combinations of the two, in an attempt to understand how they could predictably control the outcome in the future.

The lesson also showed that a more durable cup design was needed in the future.

Oops! The blue 3D-printed cup breaks loose and takes flight
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)

After recording the different outcomes, the games began! The students marked out scoring zones on the range, and the 4th Graders attempted to land their tennis balls in just the right place—referring, of course, to their data in hand.

Gabe and Aaron help the 4th Grade record their data
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)

After three rounds, scores were tied between two teams: the Corn Cats and the Engineering Nerds. The two teams went into a sudden death round, and after a brief struggle, the Engineering Nerds dropped their ball into the zone for a hard-earned win!

The Engineering Nerds win the day!
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)

The Academy students finished the day back in the classroom with a round of discussion and questions, asking the 4th Graders about the two variables, their effect on the outcome, and problems they encountered.

Debriefing back in the classroom
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)

Thanks to all of our stellar Engineering Academy students, who planned and prepared and constructed to make this an amazing experience for the 4th Grade. We hope to get down to the Lower School again this semester, and use our knowledge and passion to invigorate the next generation for math and science and engineering.

‘Til next time!

3723 Modoc Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, USA

One Reply to “4th Grade Science Lesson: Catapults!”

  1. Well done everyone. Very impressive. What a great learning experience for all, thrilling and fun. See the joy on the faces of the students, says it all.How blessed are the students of Providence to share in such a great experience. Good job Rod, you are an amazing teacher as reflected in the above photos. I enjoyed the read, light entertaining and informative.

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