Tossing a few good ideas in the air: Kids build catapults to learn physics
Lolita King of Pierre pulls back the plastic spoon, which is held in place by ice cream sticks and masking tape. Then she lets go, and with a quick twang, a white blur flies across the room toward the target.
About a dozen students made catapults Friday morning at the Discovery Center in Pierre. They competed to see who could build a catapult and get their ammo — mini-marshmallows — closest to the red target taped to the wall.
Landon Bertram, 10, of Pierre, evaluates his creation, made of ice cream sticks held in place by rubber bands.
“There. It stands up by itself,” he said.
Meanwhile, Owen Seibel, 10, of Pierre, has a little bit of difficulty with his and appeared even to have some doubts about the project. Out of frustration, he uses a rubber band to bind a mini-marshmallow to an ice cream stick.
“Look! A jail for marshmallows,” he announces proudly.
“Is that part of your catapult?” asks Nikki Anderson, as she leads the class.
“Could be,” Seibel answers.
Anderson said the class is about physics. Students learn about potential energy and kinetic energy, as well as simple machines such as levers.
Students discussed what they’ve learned.
“What each part of the catapult is,” says Isaac Polak, 12, of Pierre.
“What causes it to move — the force,” adds Aiden Burke, 11, of Pierre.
“And velocity,” pipes in Devin Hemmelman, 12, of Pierre, as he continues the work on his catapult.
Burke described his favorite part about the catapult.
“Probably when you get up to the starting line and launch it. Seeing what it does,” he said.
At the same time, it’s a little frustrating when compared against other catapults.
“Ours just launched — shoop!” he said as his hand went straight up, then right back down to the ground. “And theirs is actually going somewhere besides straight up,” he said.
So there’s another lesson to be learned here.
“It seems easier to build something than it actually is,” Polak says.
“Yeah,” agrees Matthew King, 11 and brother of Lolita King. “This is actually very hard.”
Many students came close to the target, set up on the far side of the room. In the end, though, only one student actually hit it — Seibel.
“There you go, Mr. I-Can’t-Do-It,” Anderson said.
Read More: How to Make Ice Cream Sticks