What do duct tape, nails, screws, glue, marshmallows, rubber bands, and pie tins bring to mind? For a Rowland Hall fifth grader, these signal that it's time for the annual catapult contest! For a decade, fifth graders at Rowland Hall have participated in the University of Utah’s College of Engineering Week, where the students have a chance to show off their engineering skills with the catapults they have built. The free event on March 28 introduced 2,000 of Utah’s fifth and sixth grade students to the practical application of engineering concepts and scientific principles.
Every year students look forward to new activities during Engineering Week, as well to the traditional Fish Blitz and Straw Towers competitions. But it is the marshmallow catapult design contest that most captures the imagination of Rowland Hall’s fifth graders. “The goal is to design and build a catapult that will launch a large marshmallow and hit a target,” explains fifth grade teacher Sarah Button. “The kids bring in supplies from home and the catapult must be student designed, built, and engineered at school. Each of our fifth grade classes is divided into three or four design groups but only one will represent each class at the U’s event.”
Which explains why you might have seen marshmallows zipping through the hallways of the Lower School the past several weeks. The school can only bring the four most successful catapults to the event, so students have been busily working to design, finesse, and tweak their apparatus.
“There is a ‘catapult off’ in our field house to choose which ones go to the U the next day,” Ms. Button said. “But there are so many activities during Engineering Week that all students have the opportunity to be engaged in the learning and fun.” She also said that an unexpected side-benefit is when the kindergarten buddies offer the fifth graders some very worthwhile advice. “At some point we have our buddies come visit – it has never failed – the younger ones will see an improvement that the fifth graders never thought of. It is very empowering for the kindergarten students to see their ideas work. The fifth graders think it is pretty special too.”
When the students arrived at the U, they presented their designs to the judges using a talking points sheet they had prepared ahead of time. The catapults were judged on the use of material, aesthetic quality, and design. Congratulations to Dagny Brickson, James Quirk, and Emily Barron on winning the best design award! “The U does a really nice job of inspiring kids to think of engineering as a career,” Sarah said. “There was a Pixar presentation to demonstrate ways engineers influence almost everything we do.”
Thanks to a generous donation from Phillips 66, all schools that attend Elementary Engineering Week and fully participate in all activities, receive a $400 cash award to be used for math and science classroom teaching resources. Part of Rowland Hall’s tradition has been to use the $400 for the fifth graders to attend Space Camp in honor of Academic Support Counselor Lori Miller’s son, Jackson Miller, who was a space enthusiast.
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