Teach your students the physics of motion with a hands-on high school catapult project. Students can work independently on small catapults or as groups on tabletop or large-scale catapults. The projects can be incorporated into either a science or social studies class curriculum. High school students can build a catapult from a purchased kit, or use their knowledge of physics to build their own creation from scratch.
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Before you begin working with your high school students on building a catapult, review the history and development of the ancient devices. By developing lesson plans which include research, new vocabulary words and a written report, you can involve more curriculum standards with the project. Organise the class into small groups and have students work together to make representations of multiple styles of catapults. Conduct a launching contest after all of the projects are complete and reward the catapult that launched the farthest.
Compound catapults are perhaps the most difficult to build because of all the pieces that must interact with one another. Instruct students to follow a formula that explains the conservation of energy in reference to gravitational pull and kinetic energy. Students need to understand the formula for finding the range of a 45 degree angle. Commonly used construction materials for compound catapults include PVC pipe, two laundry line wheels, fishing line and construction adhesive paste. The items are found at most hardware stores. One of the laundry wheels is used for dropping weight and the other functions as the stopping arm for the catapult. Use a plastic cup as the throwing head.
Simpler and smaller-scale catapults can be built independently by high school students in far less time than it takes to construct a compound catapult. The Popsicle stick ballista catapult is built from 19 Popsicle sticks, hot glue and three pieces of string. Use aluminium foil formed around a piece of cardboard to make an arrowhead for the front of the catapult. The finished project will resemble a Greek ballista which was used in 800 B.C. and later adopted by the Roman empire as one of its weapons of choice. The ballista-style catapult utilises a set of skeins for shooting power. Skeins are essentially bundles of twisted rope.
Catapult building kits can be purchased at hobby shops or through online vendors. If the purchase of a kit is not within the budgets of your students, browse the kits online and use Popsicle sticks, dowel rods or plastic styrene to recreate the model structures. Common types of kits include the trebuchet-style catapult. Trebuchets were once considered the best military tools for embarking on a siege. The machines were simple to build while travelling and were portable in nature. The trebuchet used gravity as its sole source of energy.
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