Academics, Upper School

Science Students Design and Launch Catapults

The entire Northwest community cheered on the 9th grade Physical Science students during the annual catapult competition on Jan. 23. The team consisting of Neeku P., Lucy S., and Steven W. took home the trophy this year after their catapult hit the target in each round of the competition.

The catapult competition is the culmination of a science unit that plunges students into the design process and several rounds of problem-solving to fine tune the precision of their catapult designs. Physical Science teachers Sophie Daudon and Jeremy DeWitt give simple instructions to the students: Create a device that can launch a projectile to a 30-centimeter target five meters away. Precision and consistency are major focal points of the project. The goal is to hit the target at least 50 percent of the time.

“The first goal of this project is collaboration, teaching the students how to work with each other during a process that potentially is frustrating,” says Jeremy. “The second goal is to experience the design process: Come up with an idea, test it out, have it work or have it fail, and come up with different solutions to improve the idea.”

“Making the catapult precise was definitely the hardest part,” says Anders B. “After our first launch, we realized we had to figure out how to stabilize it in order to make it work better.”

Paul C.’s group experienced the complexities of the design process firsthand. His group’s catapult did not live up to the wear-and-tear of the testing phase, and the launching arm broke off before the first launch of the competition. Despite the glitch Paul says his team still managed to present a working catapult.

“Even if it didn’t come close to the target on the launch, the fact that we even got a working arm on in 20 minutes was a success.”