The Catapult Lab

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About: I'm a middle school science teacher going on 17 years in the classroom. I've taught 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. I'm constantly looking to improve my instruction and Instructables is one of the places I sear...

Here are links to the lab and a general lesson plan. This lesson is designed for middle grades, but could be used as early as 5th grade or into H.S.

Pre Lab Reflection

Catapult Lab with Claim, Evidence, Reasoning

Lesson Objectives: Students will demonstrate the ability to build a siege weapon. Students will gather data using their catapult. Students will make a claim, use evidence, and reason with that evidence. Students will analyze Newton's Laws and describe how a catapult can relate to each law.

Warm Up: Discuss Newton's three laws of motion.

Class Activity: Watch the youtube video on how to build a popsicle stick catapult (without stopping the video).

Hand out all materials and allow students to build their own catapult using either the video again or using the images in the instructable below.

Allow students to test their catapults with either marbles or mini marshmallows.

Closure: How does the catapult relate to Newton's three laws of motion?

Extension Activity

Mod 1: Some students decide to tape an extra craft stick to the back "A" frame (horizontally) to influence the stopping point of the throwing arm for a higher trajectory.

Mod 2: Some students decide to tape two extra craft sticks to the back "A" frame (vertically) on either side of the throwing arm to prevent it from wiggling to the left or right.

Lab: What all teachers should be striving to get their students to master...

Claim, Evidence, Reasoning

My students take one class period to test their catapults in a catapult tournament. We push the lab tables together (end to end) to make a series of long tables. We set up three cups at the end of the table filled with sand. Students work in pairs to either hit the cups (one point) or sink the marble into the cups (3 points). First to 10 wins, but they have to win by 2. The team who shoots second at the start of the game gets the last shot.

Winners play winners, losers play losers.

After students have a chance to test their catapults, identify problems, and make adjustments they get to form their claim. Claim: To launch a catapult 300 cm, students must be aware of ___________________ and __________________.

They are allowed to fill in the variables (including distance, but that's the length of our lab tables pushed together).

Possible variables include but are not limited to:

  • the distance the throwing arm gets pulled back in cm.
  • the number of rubber bands
  • the mass of the projectile
  • the angle the throwing arm gets pulled back
  • the angle of the throwing arm at it's stopping point
  • the size of the basket

Evidence: Students then design an experiment to test their claim. They collect data and create a data table.

Reasoning with the collected evidence: Students are then expected to be able to use the evidence they collected to support their claim. For example: To launch a catapult 300 cm, students must be aware of the distance the throwing arm gets pulled back in centimeters and the number of rubber bands. First, our team used a metric ruler to mark centimeters 1-6 on the "A" frame of our catapult. Next, we collected 4 rubber bands. To keep the mass of the projectile the same, we used the same marble with a mass of 4.5 grams for the entire experiment. According to our data, using 3 rubber bands and pulling the throwing arm back a distance of 4 cm resulted in a throwing distance of 300 cm. Our next closest trial was using 2 rubber bands and pulling the throwing arm back 6 cm because the marble landed 315 cm away. One possible variable we weren't able to account for was...

Step 1: Popsicle Stick Catapult

I teach 7th-grade science. During our physics unit, I have students build craft stick catapults to help demonstrate Newton's Laws of Motion. They also use their catapults to create a claim, develop an experiment to test their claim, and use evidence from the experiment in their reasoning. For more information about the catapult lab, you can skip to the last step. If you're no longer a student, don't let that stop you!

If you like this Instructable, please consider voting in the Tape Contest. Thanks! Now let's get building!

Step 2: Materials

For this project, you'll need:

craft sticks (8)

duct tape (about 50 cm)0

rubber bands

index card

scissors

writing utensil (optional)

Step 3: The Base

1. Start with about 24"-30" of duct tape.

2. Rip the tape into about twenty, 1.5" strips.

3. Create an equilateral triangle. Make sure the craft stick closest to you is on top of the others. The corner of the triangle facing away from you should have the edges of the craft sticks touching.

4. Add duct tape to each corner to hold the shape. Double the duct tape to double the strength.

*The bottom stick is on top because when you pull back on the throwing arm (after the build is complete), there will be more tension on those two corners (compared to the rest of the joints).

Step 4: The "A" Frame

1. Lay two craft sticks on top of the equilateral triangle from the first step. Make sure the ends of the sticks closest to you are nestled into the groove (created when we laid the craft stick on top of the other two in our first step).

2. Lay duct tape over the craft sticks at each corner to keep them in place.

3. Lift the "A" and wrap the tape around the three corners. The "A" will naturally stay up after the tape is wrapped.

Step 5: The Front Post

When taping the front post, you will notice the top of the "A" can be taped in a variety of positions. Depending on the angle of the front post will influence the angle in which the throwing arm stops, therefore impacting the release point of your projectile. A more vertical front post will result in a lower trajectory. If the top of the front post is taped to the top of the "A" (creating a pyramid shape), the catapult will have a higher trajectory. I tend to tape my catapult somewhere in the middle.

Step 6: The Throwing Arm

Take your two remaining craft sticks and duct tape them together as shown. The length of the throwing arm is another variable in the distance, accuracy, and angle of your projectile trajectory.

Tape the end of the throwing arm where the base meets the front post. The throwing arm should have the ability to move freely up and down, without falling off. I'm sure there is more than one way to affix the throwing arm, but my picture (and the video) is worth 1000 words.

Make sure to add an extra layer of tape around the front post, around the throwing arm, and around the base to keep the throwing arm secure.

Step 7: Projectile Basket and Rubber Band

1. Create a square on an index card. I usually make it about 6 lines high.

2. Cut out your square and imagine where your projectile will need to fit (we launch marbles).

3. I like to draw out the shape of a tic-tac-toe grid with the center square just the right size for my projectile. Make sure the bottom of your basket will fit the projectile snugly. Too much space and the projectile can roll around and won't be as accurate too little space and the projectile won't fit. It's okay to go back and make a new basket if the original isn't working as you planned.

4. Fold on the dotted lines.

5. Cut to the crease on the solid lines.

6. Fold up the sides and tape into place.

7. Tape the basket to your throwing arm leaving a small amount of the craft stick at the top (to pull back on).

8. Place a rubber band (or two, or three) so that it stretches behind the throwing arm and over the front of the front post.

9. Ready... Aim.... FIRE!!!

Tape Contest

Fourth Prize in the
Tape Contest

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    9 Discussions

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    AnneR26

    2 months ago

    Can't reply direct - it says I have too many cookies or something! Yes a trebuchet has a counter weight at the base of the beam....but basically, so has this stick model. It is NOT a catapult, which is worked with a stretchy band from a Y shaped static hand held frame.

    1 reply
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    BiodynamicAnneR26

    Reply 2 months ago

    I appreciate you trying to convince me, but even your all caps "NOT" is NOT enough. Feel free to convince all of the other instructable authors who built "catapults" (that look and function just like this one), that they are not catapults. I'm also getting the too many cookies message and it's quite annoying.

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    WeTeachThemSTEM

    2 months ago

    Thanks for sharing this great resource! The lesson and student activities are really awesome and I bet the Catapult Tournament is super exciting. :)

    1 reply
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    BiodynamicWeTeachThemSTEM

    Reply 2 months ago

    I just edited the link to the lab if you're interested. Thanks for looking!

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    BiodynamicAnneR26

    Reply 2 months ago

    I thought a trebuchet used a counterweight to throw a projectile?