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North Van students design, build and launch authentic-sized catapults

Alcuin College students get ready to launch water balloons from their ballista, a type of catapult used in Middle Ages. Over the past two months they designed and built three authentic-sized catapults while incorporating science, technology and history lessons.  - Michaela Garstin
Alcuin College students get ready to launch water balloons from their ballista, a type of catapult used in Middle Ages. Over the past two months they designed and built three authentic-sized catapults while incorporating science, technology and history lessons.
— image credit: Michaela Garstin

The day finally came for a group of Alcuin College students to watch their catapults in action.

Over the past two months they have researched, designed and constructed three authentic-sized catapults while incorporating "hands-on" science, technology and history lessons.

With their medieval trebuchet, onager and ballista ready to go, they quickly loaded water balloons and took turns bombarding a giant cardboard castle.

Three teams of students in Grades 3 to 8 researched the origins of catapults and how they were designed during the Middle Ages. Using wood, hemp rope and dowelings instead of screws, they tested different versions before the final products were given the OK.

"The physics and the mathematics is at a higher level than Grade 3 to 8, so the goal was more experience with the design cycle," says Alcuin College's principal Stella Ablett.

"When they were researching catapults they found out: What was the purpose? Who used them? And why the three different designs?"

The combined history/science/technology lessons came about after eight-year-old Owen (red jacket in the photo above) brought a model catapult to class one day. He began building the contraptions with his father, Nick Jones, after reading the Roman-era comic books Asterix and Obelix a couple years ago.

"It's such a relatively simple thing — you put an object in and it flings it. It struck a note," Jones tells The Outlook after the catapult launch.

"There are hundreds of thousands of videos on YouTube about different types. Some build modern ones and there are a couple guys in England who try to build them exactly as they were in the Middle Ages — huge ones that can throw a giant boulder."

He began researching the designs and brought his idea to staff at Alcuin College who thought it was a great out-of-the-box way to make academics more interesting.

"We tried to build them the way they were once made. It didn't work right away but we kept trying until we figured it out," adds Jones.

Catapults were particularly popular during medieval times to breach castles and fortified walled cities. The last time they were common, says Jones, was during trench warfare in the First World War.

mgarstin@northshoreoutlook.com

twitter.com/michaelagarstin

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