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Bronxville Elementary School Fourth-Graders Take On The Catapult Challenge

Bronxville Elementary School fourth-graders created their own catapults during a unit study on energy.
Bronxville Elementary School fourth-graders created their own catapults during a unit study on energy. Photo Credit: Bronxville Union Free School District

BRONXVILLE, N.Y. -- Bronxville Elementary School fourth-graders recently had the opportunity to collaborate, innovate, make discoveries and create their own catapults during a unit study on energy.

The students designed catapults out of a ruler, masking tape, rubber bands and a plastic spoon. They used a cotton ball as a projectile, which they placed at the tip of the plastic spoon, to test their inventions.

“The experiment had many layers and embedded skills,” fourth-grade teacher Susan Monaco said. “Primarily, I wanted the students to work together as a team to solve a problem and apply what they know about potential and kinetic energy to the transfer of energy in the catapult. Simply saying that potential energy is stored energy and kinetic energy is motion energy doesn’t have much meaning to the students until they have the opportunity to experience the energy transfer in a meaningful, fun way.”

Monaco said her students were tasked with identifying variables that they could use in the experiment to achieve different results. They collaborated in small groups to test each variable, and to discover which design was most accurate and launched the cotton ball the furthest. Some students added an extra rubber band to the design or used a heavier projectile.

“They learned that the heavier projectiles and using more rubber bands caused the projectile to travel the longest distance,” Monaco said. “They were very engaged and excited about this project.”

Before conducting the catapult challenge, the fourth-graders learned about potential and kinetic energy using metal balls and ramps. As young scientists and engineers, they observed and compared how the different-sized metal balls behaved on ramps. They discovered that objects that have more mass and are at a higher position have more potential energy.

“In addition to teaching science, the catapult challenge encouraged students to creatively generate ideas, collaborate, critically evaluate shared ideas, problem- solve, and generate, test and analyze data,” Monaco said.

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