Look out for falling pumpkins

  • Monday, January 14, 2013

Dominic Carroll, Aaron Gillam, James Gillam

The question is, how far will a pumpkin fly?
The answer, Laing Middle School students learned, was that it all depends on mass.
Last month, Laing students were provided with left over Halloween pumpkins from Hibben United Methodist Church’s annual pumpkin sale. They measured the mass of each pumpkin and predicted the distance each pumpkin would go.
Wesley Gillman, the parent of seventh grade Laing Middle School student James, then donated the use of their Trebuchet (similar to a catapult) so that the students could launch their individually numbered pumpkins.
At Laing Middle School, students approach learning through a whole-school STEM initiative. This means that students study core curriculum and learn to problem solve using the Engineering Design Process. Students participate in cross-curricular activities while focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
This STEM-based approach provides strong support to new common core standards for English language arts and mathematics, as well as Next Generation Science Standards now under development. These standards include new emphasis on technological literacy, communication skills, engineering design and the applications of science, all of which are key themes included in the STEM approach.
In the weeks leading up to the big toss, students practiced with a small-scale catapult using cork, rubber and foam.
Each student wrote a hypothesis for what would happen with his or her pumpkin. Once their pumpkin was thrown across the track field using the Trebuchet, each student collected distance data to determine if his or her hypothesis was correct or incorrect.
The project contained educational standards from every subject area from computer graphing to arts. The goal was to show connections between different subjects. The Trebuchet was used in ancient warfare and the variables in science were mass vs. distance. There was a real world experience component as well, which included the actual hands-on experiment.
Ultimately, each student will be tasked with building his or her own small Trebuchet using parameters and rules set forth to them - thus implementing problem solving skills and teamwork skills.
Using the Engineering Design Process - define, brainstorm, select solutions, test, prototype, analyze results and present results - students are being taught to be literate citizens beyond just reading and writing. They are being taught about technology and how it works and the importance of knowing that in the 21st Century, one must know these things in order to compete as a global citizen.
The students even invited a local traffic officer from the Mount Pleasant Police Department to join in their fun. Chris Rosier brought out his radar gun and clocked the flying pumpkins at an average of 40 mph. Afterwards, results were graphed by class and compared to the whole school.
The end result? The middle-sized pumpkins flew the farthest.

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