Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mad Scientists-Catapults

Let me start off by saying that I am a non-science person.  I have been following various blogs and presentations to psych myself up and made the plunge this winter.  This goes to show you that if I can do it, you can too.

Before the program
I started off by giving any science program for ages 7-12 a catchy name-Mad Scientists.  The topics may change, but it will always show up as Mad Scientists in our newsletter and on our online calendar.  I do this to create a following.  (Our ages 3-6 programs are called Little Scientists.)

The idea came about as a combo from two sources-The Show Me Librarian's Attack on the Fort blog post and a presentation about STEM programs at MLA's 2013 Annual Conference.  In Lisa-speak, I mushed them together and added a twist to create a catapult program.  I booked our auditorium for this program as it has a large open space that was perfect for flying projectiles.  We registered 25 kids for a program during their midwinter break and filled up almost immediately.

Cost is very important to me when deciding on a program.  This is was my list of supplies and the cost:
  • 1 box of craft sticks for $8.99
  • 1 bag of rubber bands that we had in the building to wrap holds.  Free
  • 1 box of plastic spoons from Meijer for $1.99
  • Bin of pom poms from our activity closet.  Free (already had)
  • 1 roll of masking tape from our supply closet.  Free (already had)

The total cost was $10.98 which makes my cheap heart very happy.

The program
As the kids came in, they picked up their nametag (our way to check registration) and sat at one of the tables.  At each space was a handout with directions, 9 craft sticks, 1 plastic spoon, and 4 rubber bands.  This way I wasn't running around passing out supplies.

Almost everyone was able to make their own catapult.  I did have to help a few kids in making an X out of the rubber bands.

Now for the fun part-target practice!  I set up a bunch of masking tape targets around the room and piles of ammunition (pom poms).
 My bullseye that makes me think of skee-ball

My castle

Gotta have some Xs to mark the spot

Every 7 year old boy's favorite target

The kids spent the next 45 minutes shooting their catapults.  As they started sending pom poms flying, they came up with good scientific questions, such as "What is the difference between a catapult and a trebuchet?" and "Which works better-the big pom pom or the little pom pom?"  Some of the kids took their original catapults apart and experimented with different designs-one was a v, one had a lot of pom poms under the rubber bands, and another added more sticks to make his middle taller.  It was fun to see this science stuff in action.

The kids also got a bit creative.  They asked if they could have more targets.  I said okay as long as they told me the designs.  We ended up with:

Tic Tac Toe

It started off as a smiley face.  Then, it got angry eyebrows and a tongue.  
To me it looks like a cover of a Bon Jovi album.

With five minutes left in the program, I yelled out "Clean up time!"  The kids picked up all of the pom poms that were now scattered throughout the room.  Out of 25 kids, at least 20 spent an hour flinging things at targets.  I was amazed at their attention span.

So I learned after I did it that my director is not fond of tape on oak paneling.  Luckily he didn't see it, but it is something to keep in mind for the future.  For now I am going with the philosophy of "don't ask, don't tell."

The size of the group worked really well with the size of my room.  The kids were able to spread out enough that they could each hit targets, but not so far that they would chase each other around the room with catapults.  You do need to keep an eye out in this type of program as they will begin to find other targets.  We ended up with pom poms hitting the clock, the garbage can, and people.  Two kids played catch with theirs where one kid would fling the pom pom and the other would catch it.  It was organized chaos so you have to know where your comfort level is and where you need to lay down the law (clock and garbage can were no's, but catch was okay).

Personally, I was surprised that it kept their interest for a full hour.  I was expecting kids to trickle out after 30 minutes, but that didn't happen.  It was definitely a program to do again in the future.


  1. LOL at Don't Ask Don't Tell. Maybe Next time you can use old ALA READ posters? Or just blank poster board (hung with mounting squares?) and then put the tape up on that? This sounds like a really fun program. :)

  2. Is there a link somewhere to instructions that could be handed out?

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