Terra Vista MS students learn about motion, project organization through catapult construction
Students at Terra Vista Middle School learned recently about Newton’s three laws of motion by shooting tennis balls down the school’s halls with catapults.
They also learned about organizing a project and the evils of procrastination.
Marc Rey, who built a catapult made from lightweight PVC pipes with his father, said the two lessons of Newton’s laws and avoiding procrastination were about equal.
Marc’s project was one of the few that used PVC — most were constructed of wood. Many of the projects had to be weighted down, but Marc needed dumbbells to kept his catapult on the floor.
Another eight-grader, Delanie Padilla, said she also worked with her parents to build a Viking catapult. Prior to the project, she said she had little construction experience.
“We actually looked at a couple of designs online,” she said. She liked the slingshot effect of the design she eventually chose to build.
Her teacher, Colby Sharp, said in his six years of working with students to build catapults, he’s seen several designs and thought he had seen everything.
“This is a new one. I haven’t seen one like this before,” he said of Delanie’s Viking catapult.
He said in addition to Newton’s three laws, he hopes students gain an understanding of the use of tools, an appreciation for how difficult it can be to build and project organization skills.
It’s important in a project like this to work in advance, Sharp said, because when testing the device, it may need to be tweaked.
Students were required to work individually or in groups to build a catapult no bigger than two feet in width, three feet in length and four feet in heighth. Students were allowed five chances to hit a target on the ground 20 meters away. They were graded for being able to hit the 20 meter mark and for their accuracy in hitting the target.
“They also had to write about Newton’s three laws and how they applied to the catapult,” Sharp said.
A small portion of the overall grade was also given for getting the catapults out of the building by the end of the week. With 180 eight-graders in just Sharp’s classes, he said that’s a lot of catapults to store even for a short time.
The teacher said even sixth-graders are aware of the catapults in school, and by the time they reach eighth grade, many are excited to build their own. While the boys are generally initially more engaged than the girls, he said the girls catch up as they learn more.
Eighth-grade science students also study basic chemistry, physics, geology and Earth and space science.
Newton’s 3 laws of motion
1. An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
2. Acceleration is produced when a force acts on a mass. The greater the mass, the greater the amount of force needed.
3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
— Source: teachertech.rice.edu
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