Cases on STEAM Education in Practice Catapults and History of Catapults

Cases on STEAM Education in Practice Catapults and History of Catapults

Warren James DiBiase (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA), Judith R. McDonald (Belmont Abby College, USA) and Kellan Strong (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9631-8.ch010


The catapult was one of the most effective and deadly weapons in medieval siege warfare. They have been critical to warfare since ancient times and have been used by Greek, Roman, and Chinese warriors to vanquish their enemies. This case will present a problem-based scenario where students will assume the identity of an astronaut stranded on Mars. Like the character in the Disney film The Martian, the astronaut only has a small collection of “spare parts” at their disposal. In an effort to fend off predators, they must design and construct a catapult.
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Literature Review

Engineering design activities can be a powerful entry point into science learning. Design-build projects are a great way to encourage students to use creativity within projects to tackle a problem (Wicklein, 2006). As students develop an understanding of design-build projects, teachers can challenge them by presenting them with a local community-based engineering issue to solve. Selecting a local issue means that it becomes relevant to students. Engineering design-build projects, “hands-on,” or “learning by doing” is grounded in constructivist theory (Fortus, Krajcikb, Dershimerb, Marx, & Mamlok-Naamand, 2005) that is shown to improve student achievement in higher level cognitive tasks, such as scientific processes and mathematic problem solving (Satchwell & Loepp, 2002). Current research indicates that when students are given a project-based task, their interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) can be increased because it requires them to solve genuine, real-life problems (Fortus, Krajcikb, Dershimerb, Marx, & Mamlok-Naamand, 2005). Teachers today are challenged in many ways ranging from administrative tasks to having students reach state mandated test scores. This form of instruction (STEM) provides an engaging methodology that allows the curriculum to be relevant while enabling teachers to provide students with important skills. Students will use critical thinking and problem-solving skills, collaboration, communication, and creativity all while learning required content. The integration of art and engineering embodies creativity. Applying art and design to physics as a means to efficiently solve a problem epitomizes innovation because the two disciplines may seem incompatible on the surface. Students will experience or be introduced to STEM careers while being challenged to solve a problem.

Figure 1.

Engineering design triangle: next generation science standards, grades 9-12


Content Information

This engineering design-build project integrates many content areas. Students are first asked to research catapults throughout history and identify effective designs. Students will use high quality, reliable Internet resources while utilizing quality search terms to seek the information necessary to design an effective catapult. Students will also identify the time period in history when catapults were used and their purposes. Some students may ponder how this device could be used today. As the students continue designing their catapults, they will need to collaborate and communicate with other group members, sharing their thoughts and ideas.

Mathematics is an important component in this activity. Students will investigate many variables, and perhaps identify many more during this investigation. The first variable that students will most likely want to investigate is the angle of launch. If the angle is too great, the projectile will go too high which will result in a shorter distance launched. On the other hand, an angle that is too small may overshoot the target. It is important to allow students time to test various angles. Figure 2 below explains the angle of launch. Another variable that could be tested is rubber band resistance. If possible, provide various tensions of rubber bands which will affect the projectile’s speed. The greater the tension, the greater the projectile’s speed. An additional variable that students can experiment with is the distance between the catapult and the target. One final variable available for student exploration is the length of the catapult’s launching arm. How will the launching arm’s length, in conjunction with varying launch angles, change the catapult’s accuracy? Encourage students to explore all these variables and create a data table to collect the changes in their variables.

Figure 2.

Angle of launch using the laws of trigonometry which relate the initial velocity to the maximum height and distance of the projectile. V= velocity and X is the launch angle


A general summary of the content covered with this activity is:

Key Terms in this Chapter

Science: Both a body of knowledge and a process of studying the natural world.

Catapult: A device designed to launch a projectile.

Technology: Using science to solve problems.

Project-Based Learning: An inquiry instructional strategy in which students work in teams as collaborators on an ill-structured problem.

Deep Dive: An in-depth examination into a content topic or problem.

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