Monday, February 16, 2009

Catapulting in the Classroom???

Last December, I spied Meaghan placing one red rod on top of another. She lifted her leg and was about to step hard on one of the rods when I stopped her or, better stated, interrupted her. "Are you trying to see how force is measured or maybe to see if applying force creates a reaction?" I asked in somewhat of an exaggerated academic way. (I was trying to plug into her energy not deflate it). "Yeah, something like that," was her answer. I asked her to put away the red rods as they were not the best materials for her exercise. She immediately complied.

I had just attended a one-night science workshop for teachers. There was a handout in their packet on how to make a catapult. This seemed a great moment to put the directions to use. Also, and I am so grateful, all attending teachers were given a brown bag of simple supplies for science experiments. There were two, small, wooden boards in the bag which I had put in my storage closet. I asked Meaghan to get out a working rug while I retrieved the bag of science materials.

I pulled out the two boards and before I could say anything she said, "Those are exactly what I need, Miss Dyer." She positioned the boards several ways before determining which way was best. I gathered other supplies she would need to finish her construction.

Before she began hammering, she attempted to catapult some small, sponges - a preliminary exercise or two.

With goggles on for protection, she hammered two nails at the top of one of the boards and across from each other.

She stretched a single rubber-band between the two nails. This was not a quick assemblage. Meaghan spent 3 or 4 entire work periods constructing her catapult.

Next, she had to decide what to sling and where. Her first attempts revealed a need to lift the top board higher. She made the needed adjustments and tried to sling another object. Soon, she discovered that heavier things traveled shorter distances and that lighter things could be flung across the entire room. A small audience of her classmates gathered to witness her experiments.

After flinging several items and letting them remain where they had fallen, she independently asked me if she could measure their various distances from the catapult. She went to the math shelf and retrieved a basket filled with small, glass pebbles. She counted out pebbles to measure the distances.

Again, she concluded that lighter objects were catapulted greater distances. Of course, as an educator, I am aware that force was also a key factor in her experiment. I decided that asking Meaghan to determine the output of force via her hand pulling the rubber band and releasing it was not necessary. Instead, I enjoyed her smile as she pulled back the rubber band and let it go.

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