Fun with STEM: A "Punkin Chunkin" Catapult with Craft Sticks!

In this post, I am going to tell you about a really FUN, seasonal STEM project that I did with my first and second graders:  they made "Punkin" Chunkin" catapults with craft sticks and masking tape!  Then we measured to see who's pumpkin went the farthest!  The "punkins" were actually orange pompoms, so we had to use our imaginations, but none of the children cared.  They had an absolute BLAST!

For this fun activity, we invited our new fifth grade buddies to come in and give us a hand, but I really think that the first and second graders could have done it on their own as well.  So if you are thinking of doing this with your own young students alone and without the help of older students, go for it!  I think that Kindergartners could do it too, but I would do it in small groups so that I could help those that needed it.

My inspiration for this came from many different child constructed catapults that I have seen on Pinterest- along with a quick video clip I saw of a Punkin Chunkin Catapult online!  But all of the child-made catapults that I have seen were made with rubber bands- and I have concerns about giving kids HANDFULS of rubber bands in a room CROWDED with excited children, while pompoms go flying back and forth!  Um... no.  I mean I have a good class, but why tempt fate?

So I thought, why not see if I can make one with masking tape?  So I started experimenting and came up with a working prototype.

This is how to make the basic catapult:

1. Tape two jumbo craft sticks together on one end.
2. Use a hot glue gun to glue a water bottle lid onto the top of one of those craft sticks.  Leave enough space on the edge for a finger to pull the catapult back.
3. Tape six jumbo craft sticks together on both ends.
4. Pull the first two jumbo craft sticks (with the lid glued on) apart, and push the stack of six taped sticks in between them.
5. Place a pompom in the lid.  Pull the stick back with your finger and let it go!  Watch the pompom fly!

To Prepare:

1. Hot glue a water bottle lid to one jumbo craft stick per child.
2. Make a zip baggie for each child with seven jumbo craft sticks in it, plus one of the sticks with the lids glued on.
3. Add some pompoms to the bag.  I put in four different sizes of pompoms to let the children experiment and see which ones would fly the farthest.  (Can't afford pompoms?  Marshmallows will also work- but the mini ones will hit the ceiling if you launch them inside!)
4. On the day of the lesson, get either a child helper or a volunteer to tear off lots of long strips of masking tape and put them along a counter top so that they are ready.  Our strips were about 18-24 inches long each.
5. On the day of the lesson, set up a measuring station somewhere (ours was outside on the playground.  The fifth grade buddies did it!  They drew two rectangles on either side of a white line on the playground, and then measured off ten feet in one foot increments.  The reason why there were two rectangles was because that way, we could have two teams of kids launching the Punkins at the same time.
6. Get a class list on a clipboard ready, so that you can have one of the older children write down the length each Punkin flew.

How to Give the Lesson:
This is how I gave my class the lesson.  I'm sure that there are many ways to give it, but this is how I approached it, step by step.

1. I first showed them my working prototype and explained that one holiday tradition we have here in the United States is having "Punkin' Chunkin" contests in which people make different kinds of catapults and see how far they can make their pumpkins fly!  (I looked for a good YouTube video example, but really didn't find a good one!)
2. Then I demonstrated how my own little mini "Punkin' Chunker" worked, and of course when they saw it, they all just went BONKERS!  (The first thing they wanted to know was if they got to KEEP the one they made, and I told them yes.)
3. I explained that the real name of my Punkin' Chunker was a catapult, and people used to use them long ago for self-defense.
4. I showed them how to make their own catapult, step by step.
5. Then I told them that they would each get a bag with eight jumbo craft sticks (one with a lid already hot-glued on,) and four different sizes of pompoms.  They could make their catapult in any way they liked, but the goal was to make a pompom go as far as possible.
6. I also told them that they could try to make their catapult even better by using more sticks, but that they would have to be smaller sticks, since that is all I had.  So I showed them two more boxes of regular size craft sticks and mini craft sticks, and told them there were enough mini craft sticks for each group to have ten, and enough regular sized sticks for each group to have a handful.
7. I gave them a time limit of 20 minutes to create before they needed to go get in line to launch their Punkin and get a measurement.  Each group was allowed to launch a pompom three times and then take their best measurement.  Groups were also allowed to go back and modify their catapult and try again, if there was still time.
8. When the twenty minutes was up, there was a LOT of moaning and groaning!  The children were having a WONDERFUL time playing with the catapults and experimenting with them!  They also enjoyed watching the launching and measurements!  It was a really fun afternoon!

By the time all of the 19 groups got their Punkins launched and measured, we had spent about 45 minutes total during the activity.  We looked at the data and found that winning team's Punkin had flown nine whole feet!  There was a tie for second place at eight and a half feet, and then the third place winner went eight feet.  The majority of the Punkins went about four feet, I would say!

Next time I do this, I am going to be sure to ask the children ahead of time to think about what would make their catapults make the pompoms fly farther.  I only spotted ONE group that was actually trying to raise up the height of the platform that the spring was resting on to give it more room to "snap."  That is what should have made it go farther!  But the kids seemed much more interested in making a "cool" design rather than a design that would make the pompom fly farther.  Interesting, huh?  :)  Here are some of their designs:

I hope you enjoyed this!  If you have any suggestions to make it a better activity, I would love to hear them!


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