Catapults: Launching into STEM Fun

By: Travis West, Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development, Vinton County

Catapults are a great introductory engineering project that can be accomplished with several items you might have around your house or classroom. Hands-on experiences like constructing a catapult give kids a chance to explore the Design Thinking Process. Failure of their designs is inevitable but the repeated cycle of creating, building, testing, and improving is critical. The workforce is looking for employees that understand failure and its role in pushing you to reengineer a better solution each time.

Design Thinking Process image from:

Items you might use for your catapult

  • rubber bands
  • paper clips
  • popsicle sticks (or similar pieces of wood)
  • paper cups
  • plastic utensils
  • tape

There are many ways to be successful in your design, but launching an item into the air is the first goal, followed by precision and accuracy to advancing your challenge!

You will need a “basket” that will hold the item you are launching and moving parts will be necessary to give you that acceleration needed to move the item. Make sure that you take time to brainstorm a design plan before constructing, but know that multiple changes in design are expected. A good plan on paper does not always mean a good plan during construction so be willing to change and test out different options before arriving at the ONE. The ONE that you think will work, the ONE you have tested, and the ONE that is ready for that official test launch.

Youth Participants building and testing out a catapult design challenge.

Once you have that first successful launch, think about items that have different weights and how they might perform on your catapult. Can you launch a marshmallow and a sugar cube with your design? Test it out! Explore an agriculture-related catapult challenge with the Hay Swift Kick STEM Challenge video and activity.

Hay Swift Kick Catapult Video:

Lesson Plan

STEM PATHWAYS Hay Swift Kick STEM Challenge!

Peer-reviewed by: Meghan Thoreau, OSU Extension Educator in Community Development programmatic focus on STEM Education and Career Exploration.

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