Our makerspace sessions this year have been following a month-long theme, but for Halloween, we decided to have a one-time special makerspace. In the past, we’ve done a “design something spooky” challenge where kids designed haunted houses, ghosts, etc and used littlebits to give them lights, sound, and movement.
This year, Gretchen Thomas from UGA suggested pumpkin catapults, and it was the perfect suggestion. Ahead of the session, students signed up on a Google doc with their teacher for a 30-minute slot. As students arrived, they checked in with a UGA student and sat on the carpet in front of the projector. While we waited on arrivals, they watched a video of the Punkin Chunkin event in Delaware.
We chatted about observations. Many students noticed the different styles of catapults that were made and we wondered about how many times they had to work on their inventions before they worked the way they wanted them to.
Next, I muted a video showing students working on a smaller scale pumpkin catapult.
While the video played, we talked about the day’s challenge. Students were challenged to design a catapult that could launch a candy pumpkin across the library. They used the video to name some of the materials they would need: plastic spoon, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, tape, and a pumpkin. Students also saw in the video that there were many designs of catapults and that adjustments were constantly being made to improve the catapults.
When they were ready to take on the challenge, students gathered their initial materials from a supply table and made their first attempt at a pumpkin catapult. Some jumped right in while others went back to watch the video again. Some chose to work together, while others chose to work alone.
As first attempts were finished, students picked up a candy pumpkin and moved to our launch zone. This was a crucial piece of the experience. I wanted a designated area for launching in order to contain the mess but also to keep students safe from flying projectiles. We launched pumpkins in the back of the library toward our green screen wall.
Most students had mediocre first launches, so we chatted with them about what they thought might improve their design. Students went back and forth from the launch zone to the building areas. UGA students spent most of their time at tables assisting students who were stuck or needed an extra hand. Some of them also helped with keeping students safe from flying pumpkins in the launch zone.
Even with pumpkins flying in the back of the library, this was a surprisingly peaceful makerspace. Students were very focused on their designs, especially as we moved higher in grades. Pairs of students worked well together and students were for the most part safe when launching pumpkins. I loved seeing the many different designs. Some were very simple and some attempted to make very elaborate catapults.
This experience could have many extensions if we had more time. I would love to add a measurement component to see which catapult threw pumpkins the farthest. We kept things very open-ended, but you could also establish some boundaries as to what elements of the catapult were required, how many materials could be used, etc.
With the time we had, this was the perfect setup. Students had plenty of time to make a catapult that had some type of success and they were able to take what they made with them to continue working on or exploring.