Physics – Catapults – Week 6

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4 and Week 5.

Made by C and G - ages 6 and 5. Just from looking at the cover of this book.

Made by C and G – ages 6 and 5 – just from looking at the cover of this book.

This past week, three of our groups displayed their ‘completed’ projects. Considering that this was the first self-directed project for many of our students, I think they did a pretty fabulous job of following through with their ideas. As a parent-facilitator, I feel the need to say that toward the end, my own kids were ready to be done with their projects. It’s not that they didn’t enjoy the process of sawing and hammering, rather I think they had learned what they needed and didn’t feel the need to do more research (especially since the building was all done)!  Afterward, they did feel quite satisfied to complete the projects, even if there were a few extra nudges from Mom.

The Gravity Girls, (ages eleven and barely eight)
These two had a completed poster last week, but needed a few more tweaks with a couple of experiments before they felt ready to present. The youngest member also took the week to really know the material that she was reading from the poster – a very mature choice on her part! She wasn’t forced to learn any of the material, she chose to do it so that she wouldn’t let her partner down. I was quite inspired by her enthusiasm.

J and M (ages 8 and 11) present their findings on gravity.

J and M (ages 8 and 11) present their findings on gravity.

They began by reading off of their poster, which told a lot about how gravity works and about the scientist, Isaac Newton, who formed the first theory on gravity.

The girls hoped to drop two balls (one heavy, one light) to show that they dropped at the same rate. Surprisingly, they had a hard time! But, they talked about their discovering anyway.

The girls hoped to drop two balls (one heavy, one light) to show that they dropped at the same rate. Surprisingly, they had a hard time! But, they talked about their discoveries anyway.

Catapult Building – group of three 9-year-old boys
At the last meeting, the boys had decided to finish up their catapult (a joint effort, I assure you). I also ‘helped’ them to be ready to present their project the following week.*

The boys talked about what they wanted to put on their poster and RG sketched out how the poster might look. I stepped in a little bit to make sure that all of the voices in the group were heard and appreciated, and then the boys divvied up their respectful research assignments for the week. Since they didn’t have a chance to get together during the week, they added their research and pictures to the poster before presenting them to the class.

Creating something to display for their project-based homeschooling project.

Creating something to display for their project-based homeschooling project.

They included research on the history of catapults, the type of lever that a catapult is considered (third class), and the process of choosing and making the final wood design.

A and RC present their research to the class while their handmade wooden catapult waits patiently to be tested by everyone else!

A and RC present their research to the class while their handmade wooden catapult waits patiently to be tested by everyone else!

*In true ‘project-based homeschooling’ I think there are not meant to be time limits. However, I have noticed that kids will often drift from a topic when they’ve gotten the information that they needed – or sometimes when the work becomes tedious. At this point in my parenting (and teaching), I think it’s important for nine-year-olds to understand that follow-through is valuable. If you say you are going to do a project on catapults, then you need finish it up and stop dawdling! I reminded the boys to keep working a bit more this week than in previous weeks, but otherwise they did everything else themselves.

Catapult Building – group of two boys (ages 5 and 6)
After a little bit of encouragement, these two shy and quiet boys happily presented their catapult to the class. Much of this presentation looked liked some classic male one upmanship, but I think that was how these boys worked. They were excited to tell what parts they added and created, and I was quick to point out how they worked together. Either way, everyone had a chance to try out all of the catapults and everyone seemed to have garnered at least some new information.

Everyone had a chance to see how the modifications made the catapult work.

Everyone had a chance to see how the modifications made the catapult work.

In the end, there was a bit of a castle siege with some available castle blocks and the catapults were put to good use. Unfortunately, the castle fell – not from the catapults – but rather from the large number of children playing inside the temporary castle.

I wasn't quite quick enough to catch the original castle...just the remains.

I wasn’t quite quick enough to catch the original castle…just the remains.

A second attempt at a castle siege - this time with the catapult shooting poms poms to the outside.

A second attempt at a castle siege – this time with the catapult shooting poms-poms to the outside.

Read more about our ‘lessons learned’ from doing a project-based learning class through co-op.