This story appeared in the Jan. 25 edition of the Yorktown & Cortlandt Express. Watch the video from the event here.
Lessons outside the classroom
Engineering students design and test catapults outdoors students: Engineering class heads to football field students
YORKTOWN Usually the classrooms nearby are where the learning takes place, and the football field is the place for brute force and big yardage.
Students in Lakeland High teacher Joe Felipe’s engineering class combined the two, though, for a lesson that could launch some technical careers. Or at least a few pumpkins.
“Really, it was having the kids learn through discovery,” Felipe said of his catapult assignment.
His students spent a month researching, designing and building catapults that ranged in size from knee-high to taller than a doorway. And their range in field tests on a recent morning, when loaded with snowballs and field hockey balls, was between a few feet and just shy of the opposite end zone.
“What makes this a success is if we can hit 50 yards, but I don’t know if that will happen,” Stephen Ieppariello said. “We’re shooting for 50.”
He and partner Kevin Sawler were the first to go. They hit 40 yards, which wouldn’t be topped until a later session when another team hit 90.
Snowballs sailing through the frigid morning air was a sight to see.
“It took a lot of work, definitely a lot of modifications,” Sawler said. “A lot of stuff we figured out did not work. It took a lot of engineering knowledge to realize what would or would not work. It’s a big work in progress.”
Felipe said his students learned by testing their catapults independently and making their own adjustments rather than waiting on him to point out potential flaws or improvements.
“Some of them broke when they put on too much pressure,” he said. “Some of them were shooting a little bit longer, and they tried to shoot it further today and I think that backfired for some of them. Then some of them cleared personal bests.”
Michael Pirone attached layers of metal plates to construct a spring system that proved more durable than the wood that buckled the catapult next to his.
The metal made for a durable but smaller catapult.
“It was just more expensive in the end, and it didn’t hold the high energy densities,” Pirone said. “Because what happens with metal is once you get to a certain amount of tension it just starts to bend. With wood, it will keep that amount of tension. And if there’s too much tension it’ll just break apart.”
He and partner Quinn McClernan exceeded the 10-yard minimum for the assignment and called it a success.
Chris Agugliaro said figuring out how to build the frame and how many elastic bands to use took trial and error.
His catapult misfired when the trigger piece held the energy too long, he said.
“We’ve got to get a quicker release on it. It should go a lot farther. We’re hoping for 50 yards at least,” Agugliaro’s partner, Nick Belger, said.
Schools Superintendent George Stone had to see the medieval demonstration for himself.
“It’s a great way to combine learning with some fun as well,” Stone said. “It’s a great project for team building and for learning the basic principles of engineering.”