The staff pick for this blog comes from Dr. Krystal Corbett, NICERC’s Director of Curricula.
One of the first modules I created for the STEM Explore, Discover, Apply curriculum was the Apply Catapult module. This module also happens to be one of my favorites! Given my background in mechanical engineering, I was very excited to develop a module that illustrated great physical science topics and would utilize various concepts that I learned throughout my engineering studies.
To begin developing this module, I first came up with a context. I wanted it to be something that students could see themselves doing in the future. I decided upon a context that had the students working as design engineers for an outdoor game manufacturer. They are working on a new line of outdoor games that use spring loaded catapults. This context drove much of the content in the module. The fact that they work for an outdoor gaming company required them to create a business plan and marketing campaign for their final catapult design. Additionally, the choice for the spring loaded catapults lead to many great science concepts.
One of my favorite mini projects in the module is pulled directly from my engineering classes in college. In my studies, I had to do a lab where I had to figure out the spring constant of a spring by collecting data and plotting it on a graph. I recalled this experience and thought, “Why can’t middle schoolers do that as well?” With some scaffolding, I was able to build that activity into the module. Therefore, instead of the students being given the spring constant to calculate potential energy, they actually have to find the spring constant for their specific spring. This activity, along with others throughout the module, helps the students become invested in their catapult and take ownership in the project as a whole.
Another neat project in this module is the connection to cyber. The students make an analogous connection between the catapult trying to infiltrate a fortress and a hacker/malware trying to infiltrate a firewall on a computer. They learn about different cyber-attacks and then have to re-envision that attack through the lens of a catapult and fortress. It’s very imaginative and creative while also opening up the conversation of cyber safety and security.
Once the students learn the various fundamental topics throughout the module, they design and build a working catapult. The results have been amazing. I have seen some impressive and creative catapults. The addition of playing the game for which the catapult was built yields heathy and engaging competition for the students. The students always finish this module with not only an excitement for what they just did, but also a deep understanding of the core science and design concepts presented. I love this module for that reason, and who doesn’t like to launch projectiles across a room? It’s just fun!
Apply Catapults is part of NICERC’s STEM Explore, Discover, Apply middle school curriculum. To gain access to this lesson along with a multitude of other great lessons for middle school and high school classes, click here.