Fifth Grade Catapults into Science

Science in fifth grade covers a lot of content. Students study three different science units: Earth Science, Physical Science, and Life Science. Recently, students completed a unit on Physical Science. They learned about simple machines such as levers and pulleys, force, mass, weight, kinetic and potential energy, as well as basic concepts of chemistry. As a culminating activity, the fifth graders built an army of catapults to bring down the castle of their opponents.

To begin the activity, students were given a bag of materials that included a spoon, popsicle sticks, paper clips, a binder clip, rubber bands, an index card, and 3 inches of duct tape, as well as supplies like glue and scissors. Their task: Build a catapult that could launch a mini-marshmallow with accuracy and enough force to tumble their opponent’s castle. The castle was made by stacking ten plastic cups and protecting it with fortifications designed with leftover popsicle sticks. Melanie Herrera, a fifth grade student, said, “We did a lot of thinking and learning about this kind of stuff but it was cool to actually see it and build it.” The students were broken into teams of 5 catapults, and they worked together to pool their resources to design their fortifications.

After six days of building, it was time for the battle. Wearing some very fashionable safety goggles, students set up their castles and lined their catapults up for their attacks. When the timer began, marshmallows began flying across the room and castles crumbled to the sound of cheers. After three minutes, scores were totaled and winners were named. Fifth grader Faith Robb said, “I like how we got to pick who we got to work with, but also that we had to battle while working together.” In a round robin tournament, each team played against each team, and winners of the morning and afternoon groups were named.

On the final day, all four classes met in the auditorium for the championship rounds. One team after another claimed 7th, 5th, and 3rd places with the music from Pirates of the Caribbean blasting. Curious onlookers stopped at the auditorium doors as the final two teams, the champions of the morning and afternoon groups, squared off. The final match was close with each team scoring points, but in the end it was the afternoon groups barely edging out the morning group to claim the title of champions.

Students all came away with different lessons from this activity, some academic, and some extending beyond the normal school lessons. According to fifth grader Sarah Pham, “I learned trial and error, and to try many different things before finally making a good decision.” Gisela Negron said that she liked building the catapults, and really enjoyed the moments when “It worked!” Soren Wells commented, “I learned to work together, problem-solving, and the science of catapults all in one project! I think fifth graders next year will enjoy this one.”