Half of my 4th and 5th grade STEM students (those not working in a center in our “Maker Studio”) are 2 days into a 4 day unit on creating popsicle catapults, which my district STEM mentor and peer teacher (Amy Loeffelholz – @AmyLoeffelholz) taught during our 2 day STEM Seeds PD Camp in June 2014. Students spent day 1 researching and brainstorming their own catapult designs, and are building and testing during days 2 and 3. Day 4 we are going to have a competitive launch when we’ll score results for both distance and accuracy, using an “Angry Birds” target Amy has loaned me. These are the different supplies students can purchase with $1000 of imaginary “STEM dollars,” using the “Materials Checksheet” budget which Amy developed.

Today after school, I created my own sample catapult using these materials. Today I noticed many of my students were replicating a very simple catapult model they found via a Google image search, which can’t produce a very LONG projectile launch. I decided I needed to make my own model to both discover some tips for achieving longer distance launches as well as confirm the supplies I’ve provided are adequate for the challenge I’ve given students. Here’s what I came up with.

Rather than launching marshmallows, which I’ve seen some lesson plans of other teachers include, I’ve used a single kleenex/tissue and some duct tape to make small, soft projectiles we can launch. These are easy and cheap to make as needed, and also are soft enough that if they’re inadvertantly launched at another person (accidentally or on purpose) they shouldn’t cause any injuries.

The main thing I discovered creating my catapult model today is that I need to obtain more THICK rubber bands. I have a ton of small / thin rubber bands, and while they are fine to use like a “rope lashing” to connect popsicle sticks they are not strong enough to launch projectiles across half the distance of our classroom. I’m going to pick some thicker rubber bands up this evening and offer to trade up to two of my students’ thinner rubber bands (if they want) for thicker versions.

I’m also going to discuss and explore the “Engineering Design Process” with my students during days 3 and 4 of our catapult unit, and encourage them to revise / iterate on their initial designs to obtain better catapult launch results. This is the version of the process Kevin Jarrett (@kjarrett) has used with his elementary STEM students.

Engineering Design Process by kjarrett, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  kjarrett 

So far our first real “building” project in STEM class this year has gone well, and I’m looking forward to the next few lessons. Since we’re using a “maker studio” lesson cycle, I’ve divided my class in half and will be repeating this lesson with my other students after this initial cycle. It will be interesting to track and graph our catapult launch results between group 1 and group 2. I predict I’ll be able to guide students toward better initial designs in the second iteration of this lesson cycle!

Something else notable happened today during one of my morning fifth grade classes, which I briefly documented on that class’ KidBlog website. One student build the best “Rube Goldberg” project anyone has made yet this year in class. Do you notice anything different or notable about this project?!

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2 Responses to Sample Popsicle Catapult for STEM Class

  1. M. Pruitt says:

    i’ve done a similar challenge, i also include push pins, bulldog clips and clothes hangers if they want. Its amazing how much more elaborate the designs get each year. good luck.

  2. Nick Wiggins says:

    Hello, Mr. Fryer, I wish I had your class in the 4th or 5th grade. I still love when teacher let us do projects like that. I know as a student when teachers encourage creativity and imagination it is great. I think we sometimes feel like we have to do everything one way. It can be frustrating when you cannot find that way. I know the student’s thoroughly enjoyed it.

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