The seniors and juniors of Wade Wilson’s physics class at Graham High School carefully carried their bright red trebuchet out of a set of double doors earlier this week.
“Bring it down lower, lower — I’ve got to make sure they don’t break anything on the way out,” Wilson said as he made sure the medieval mechanism cleared the metal door frames surrounding the glass walkway. “Boys are much clumsier than girls, until they get in their 30s.”
A trebuchet is a type of catapult that was used as a siege engine in the Middle Ages. It works by using the energy of a raised counterweight to throw a projectile. Wilson’s students were separated into teams and constructed their own version of the weapon out of wood and counterweights. The stored energy of the counterweight is transferred efficiently to the projectile. Students flung bottles of water, grapefruit and watermelons anywhere from 25 to as far as 227 feet.
The Medieval Siege Machine project, as Wilson calls it, is a culminating activity that he has been using for 15 years.
It actually ties in with Graham Independent School District’s vertical alignment teaching method through a project based activity.
“Everything we do is TEKS-driven, and project-based learning where the teacher is merely a facilitator is a great tool for reinforcing topics covered in class,” he said.
Projects such as Wilson’s give students a hands-on way of storing information through grade levels.
“The kids always enjoy it and I always get a kick out of seeing which students can really apply what we’ve learned in class to engineer a low-tech operating machine,” Wilson said. “Students use the concepts of levers, mechanical advantage, potential and kinetic energy, torque, pendulums and applied projectile motion calculations all while having to collaborate with other classmates.”
Not only do the students learn about physics with the project, but they also learn about teamwork.
“The collaboration between students, especially upperclassmen with jobs and extra-curricular activities, and having to find time to get together outside of class, scavenge for materials, agree on design, in my opinion, is one of the most important learning outcomes,” he said.
Wilson said that additionally, students benefit from building the trebuchets themselves versus using a pre-constructed one.
“This generation of teenagers lives such a different life than what my generation did,” he said. “I tend to be a caveman with just enough experience with technology to get by, where these kids never lived in the pre-Internet world. I’m all for kids having computer skills, but there is still a need for hands-on builders, fabricators, and other get-your-hands-dirty kind of jobs.”
Read more in Sunday's Graham Leader.