Academics, Upper School

Physical Science Students Engage in Design Process

For the better part of a month in Trimester 2, ninth grade physical science students worked with chop saws, hammers, and drills to construct group-designed catapults. The annual catapult project submerges students in the design process and provides opportunities for creative problem solving when things go awry.

Physical Science teachers Jeremy DeWitt and Sophie Daudon give students a set of parameters, which include height, length, and width restrictions, and task them with one goal: create a device that accurately launches a projectile to a target five meters away. Precision and consistency are the focuses of the project. The aim is to hit the target at least 50 percent of the time.

"We want to teach students the inherent value of the design process, including learning how to fix the design through iterations of testing," says Sophie. "This project gives students the opportunity to fail in a concrete way, experience it, process it, laugh through it, and figure out how to fix the problem."

Once the catapults are completed, the students spend a week or more in the hallways of the school testing their machines and making adjustments based on the results. The project culminates with the annual catapult competition in which student teams advance by consistently hitting the target.

Says Sophie: “The focus isn't on winning, it is about embracing that spirit of process and constantly trying to improve the catapults."