M&M Catapult

February 18, 2011

Before I forget about it, I want to jot down my reflections on the M&M catapult project we just did in my Algebra III class. I used Sean Sweeney’s revised catapult design, which I think turned out pretty well (although I’m still not sure how he attached the back braces to the clothespin).

Good Stuff

  • The kids really seemed to get into this. I put them in groups of four, and we went downstairs to the Promenade (a long, fairly deserted hallway). They immediately got down to work, making their test shots, measuring distances, and such.
  • I had almost no discipline problems with them (except for the presence of the ice cream bar machine), and there was very little “off-topic” shooting.
  • The catapults held up very well. I think if I rebuild them, I may try using two clothespins for the main lever arm to increase its stability.
  • One group did hit the bullseye using their calculations.

Bad Stuff

  • Only one group hit the bullseye using their calculations.
  • They had some troubles getting a consistent flight. I don’t know whether the problem was with the M&Ms or the catapults. In addition to adding an additional clothespin, I might try the Gobsmackers next year, since they are round.
  • When they were actually shooting, the whole group was involved. Unfortunately, when they began working on the equations, most groups left everything up to their Recorder. I’ll need to address that next year.
  • I did a poor job of preparing them for this. I should have introduced this the class period before we did this, and I should have explained more what we were doing. I think my directions were fairly clear, but the students had no idea where we were going.
  • In addition to not knowing what was going on, the students were pretty clueless about the math involved. To me, this is the major failure of the project. I was pretty shocked that I would tell a senior to “solve for y”, and she would look at me completely clueless. Finding the equation for the catapult should not have been that hard!

On the whole, I thought this was a cool idea that would have been even better with more preparation. I’m definitely going to do this next year!

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