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Kids Build Pumpkin-Tossing Catapult



Arts & Humanities
--Language Arts
Educational Technology
--Physical Science
Social Studies
----World History


Grades 2-up

News Content

Kids in New Jersey learned science and history by building a pumpkin-tossing catapult.

Anticipation Guide

Before reading, ask students Does anyone know what a catapult is and what it is used for? Write down students responses on a board or a sheet of chart paper.

News Words

Next, introduce these words that appear in the News Word Box on the students printable page: catapult, ancient, lever, customer, release, and enemies. Discuss the meanings of any of those words that might be unfamiliar. Then ask students to use one of those words to complete each of these sentences:

  • Sometimes Aunt Saras dog and cat are best of friends and other times they act more like deadly _____. (enemies)
  • In the Middle Ages, soldiers used a _____ to launch huge rocks at their enemies. (catapult)
  • The line at the cash register was so long that I was the sixth _____ in line. (customer)
  • In _____ times, fire was used to provide light and heat. (ancient)
  • When you step into the voting booth on Election Day, push the _____ next to the name of the candidate of your choice. (lever)
  • If you _____ your grip on the door, it will slam shut. (release)

    Read the News

    Click for a printable version of this weeks news story Kids Build Pumpkin-Tossing Catapult.

    You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:

    Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.

    Students might first read the news story to themselves; then you might call on individual students to read sections of the news aloud for the class.

    Photocopy the news story onto a transparency and project it onto a screen. (Or use your classroom computer's projector to project the story.) Read the story aloud as a class, or ask students to take turns reading it.

    Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write notes in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.

    More Facts to Share

    You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this weeks news story.

  • A group of 13-year-old boys from Halsted Middle School in Newton, New Jersey, launched a series of 10- to 15-pound pumpkins into the air using a catapult they built with the help of their technology teacher, Jim Hoffman, and local farmers Anthony and Heidi Lentini.
  • The catapult was constructed outside of school as a summer project. Hofmann encouraged them to continue their studies of the medieval weapon because it was a fun topic and it involved various educational concepts, including physics, gravity, leverage, tension, torsion, and mechanics.
  • The Lentinis operate a popular corn maze every autumn at their farm, and they were interested in building the catapult as a way to attract customers. The Lentinis agreed and paid for the lumber and hardware for the catapult, which cost about $1,200, according to a news report published in the Star-Ledger.
  • The boys, Hofmann, and the Lentinis, worked as a team over several weeks to build the catapult, called a trebuchet (tray-BOO-shay). On September 23 (2008), the boys demonstrated the catapult by 1) setting it up, 2) pulling down the long lever arm, which lifted up a 300-pound counterweight, 3) placing a pumpkin in the sling, and 4) setting the trigger-release mechanism. Onlookers stood behind a safety fence as each boy yanked on a different rope connected to the release.
  • The word catapult comes from ancient words katapeltes (downwards, into, against) and pollo (to poise or sway a missile before it is thrown). According to one source, the term catapult originally referred to a dart-thrower while ballista referred to a stone-thrower, but the two terms have since swapped meanings.
  • The first catapult was built in 399 B.C. in the ancient Greek city of Syracuse (modern day Sicily) during the reign of Dionysius I.
  • Catapults were more common during the Middle Ages when they were used as a weapon of choice for attacking castles and walled cities.
  • The common use of catapults was gradually replaced by the introduction of the cannon in the 1500s.

    How Does a Catapult Work?
    The links below will take you to pages you might share with students to explain the workings of a trebuchet catapult.

  • This page provides a step-by-step explanation of how a trebuchet works
  • This animation shows how a trebuchet works
  • This video introduces the science behind a catapult
  • This page offers additional trebuchet photos and information
  • This video shows college students building a pumpkin trebuchet
  • This video diagrams some of the science behind a pumpkin trebuchet

    Comprehension Check

    Revisit the Anticipation Guide at the top of this lesson; ask students if they learned anything new about the history or science behind the catapult. Add their responses to the statements they shared at the start of the lesson.

    You might follow-up that activity by asking some of these questions:

    Recalling Detail

  • In which state did the students who built their catapult live? (New Jersey)
  • Where did they build their catapult? (in a farmers field)
  • Why were the farmers willing to let them build a catapult there? (they thought it might attract customers to their farm)
  • How much did the catapults weight weigh? (300 pounds)
  • What kinds of ammunition did the students launch from their catapult? (pumpkins)
  • What type of catapult did the students build? (a trebuchet)

    Think About the News
    Discuss the Think About the News question that appears on the students news page. You might use the think-pair-share strategy (see sidebar) with students to discuss this question.


    If you use this strategy
  • First, arrange students into pairs to discuss and list responses to the question.
  • Then merge two pairs of students together to create groups of four students. Have them discuss and add to the ideas they generated in their pairs.
  • Next, merge two groups of four students to form groups of eight students. Have students create a new combined list of ideas.
  • Finally, bring all students together to create a class list of machines and other things that employ levers.

  • There are three main types, or classes, of levers. The difference between the three types has to do with the location of the levers pivot point (fulcrum) and where the force (effort) is exerted in order to make the lever work. Some objects employ multiple levers. Your students lists of common objects that employ (or act as) levers might include some of the following:
  • bicycle hand brakes
  • boat oars
  • bottle opener
  • crowbar
  • diving board
  • fishing rod
  • hammer
  • hand truck
  • mousetrap
  • nail clippers
  • nutcracker
  • piano keys
  • pliers
  • scissors
  • seesaw
  • shoehorn
  • stapler
  • tongs
  • tweezers
  • voting machine
  • wheelbarrow
  • wrench

    For a simple explanation of the three types of levers, see Levers: Simple Machines on the Enchanted Learning Web site. If you teach older students, you might share Wikipedias Lever entry. It even includes a mnemonic for remembering the location of the fulcrum, load, and effort in each of the three classes of levers.

    Follow-Up Activities

    Science catapults. If youre looking for some simple demonstrations of catapults/levers, see the fun ideas at Making Marshmallow Catapults. Another fun lesson about levers can be found at What Can Leverage Do for Me?


    by William Gurstelle

    Whether playing at defending their own castles or simply chucking pumpkins over a fence, wannabe marauders and tinkerers will become fast acquainted with ancient artillery devices known commonly as catapults. Building these simple yet sophisticated machines introduces fundamentals of math and physics as students employ levers, force, torsion, tension, and traction. Instructions and diagrams illustrate how to build seven authentic working-model catapults, including an early Greek ballista, a Roman onager, and the apex of catapult technology, the English trebuchet. Additional projects include learning how to lash and make rope and how to construct and use a hand sling and a staff sling. The colorful history of siege warfare is explored through the stories of Alexander the Great and his battle of Tyre; Saladin, Richard the Lionheart, and the Third Crusade; pirate-turned-soldier John Crabbe and his ship-mounted catapults; and Edward I of England and his battle against the Scots at Stirling Castle.

    Language arts syllables. Invite students to tell how many syllables they hear in the word catapult. If they identify the word as having three (3) syllables, ask them to identify how many syllables they hear in each of the following words: ancient (2), weapon (2), decided (3), build (1), pumpkins (2), customers (3), science (2), lever (2), sling (1), release (2), soldiers (2), enemies (3), launch (1), easily (3), trebuchet (3).

    The Middle Ages Coat of Arms. During the Middle Ages, everybody dressed alike in battle. In order to distinguish themselves, many families or groups added to their battle gear a coat of arms, a design that employed symbols to represent the family or group. Young students can design their own coat of arms using Victoria and Albert Museum: Design a Coat of Arms. If you teach older students, have them learn About Heraldry and then challenge them to Design a Coat of Arms.

    Reading listening comprehension. Read aloud this page about Medieval Food. Then ask the questions below to see how well students listened:

  • What was the main food eaten by poor people in the Middle Ages? (barley)
  • What vegetables might a poor person have eaten? (carrots, onions, or cabbage)
  • What was the difference between bread eaten by rich people and poor people? (Rich people ate bread made from wheat; poor people generally ate bread made from barley or other common grains.)
  • What kinds of meat did rich people eat? (pork, roast beef, lamb chops, deer, or rabbit)
  • Did poor people have access to salt for their foods? (no, salt was expensive so only rich people used salt on their foods)
  • From where did rich people get spices such as pepper and cinnamon? (from India)


    Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment.

    Lesson Plan Source

    Education World

    National Standards

    FINE ARTS: Visual Arts
    GRADES K - 4
    NA-VA.K-4.3 Choosing and Evaluating A Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
    NA-VA.K-4.4 Understanding the Visual Arts In Relation to History and Cultures
    NA-VA.K-4.6 Making Connections Between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NA-VA.5-8.3 Choosing and Evaluating A Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
    NA-VA.5-8.4 Understanding the Visual Arts In Relation to History and Cultures
    NA-VA.5-8.6 Making Connections Between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NA-VA.9-12.3 Choosing and Evaluating A Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
    NA-VA.9-12.4 Understanding the Visual Arts In Relation to History and Cultures
    NA-VA.9-12.6 Making Connections Between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines

    LANGUAGE ARTS: English
    GRADES K - 12
    NL-ENG.K-12.1 Reading for Perspective
    NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
    NL-ENG.K-12.9 Multicultural Understanding
    NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

    GRADES K - 4
    NS.K-4.2 Physical Science
    NS.K-4.5 Science and Technology
    NS.K-4.7 History and Nature of Science
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NS.5-8.2 Physical Science
    NS.5-8.5 Science and Technology
    NS.5-8.7 History and Nature of Science
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NS.9-12.2 Physical Science
    NS.9-12.5 Science and Technology
    NS.9-12.7 History and Nature of Science

    SOCIAL SCIENCES: World History
    GRADES 5 - 12
    NSS-WH.5-12.5 Intensified Hemispheric Interactions, 1000-1500 CE
    NSS-WH.5-12.6 Global Expansion and Encounter, 1450-1770

    See recent news stories in Education Worlds News Story of the Week Archive.


    Article by Ellen Delisio and Gary Hopkins
    Education World®
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