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KS2, KS3

Core National Curriculum links

Science, DT, Maths

Other National Curriculum links

History - Ancient Civilisations

Main engineering principles

  • Pupils embrace and learn from failure


A series of lessons



EDP stages

Ask, Create, Improve

Resources required

Dowling rods, rubber bands, mop handles, garden canes

Summary of activity

Design a catapult to fire a projectile the furthest distance

To open the activity

Challenge pupils to build a catapult with a range of materials (canes, rods, sticks, rubber bands and bucket for projectile) - don't show them a catapult at this stage. Allow them to fail and then show them a working model (based on a tetrahedron) to copy and try themselves.

The main activity

Investigate how to build a repeatable and measurable firing system to launch a projectile the furthest distance.

This is a forces experiment - the distance travelled or height reached of the projectile can be measured.

A basic catapult can be built using simple equipment (rods, canes or mop handles).

The challenge comes with making a firing mechanism so that the projectile can be fired repeatedly and consistently - enabling the trajectory and force used to be changed.

What to do

1. Build catapult and test it so it fires repeatedly
2. Measure the trajectory and force applied to launch the projectile
3. Alter the variables to see how far the projectile will go

Challenge and support

Extension: Introduce the use of pulleys and cam mechanisms and investigate other types of firing mechanisms based on ancient war machines (research needed).

Support: Work in mixed ability groups or use adult support 

To finish the activity

Decide which is the most effective catapult if different designs have been used and why - link to designs through history if possible.

Learn from me (what worked well for us)

Build your catapult before you start so you understand how it works.

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