Catapult Cannon STEM Activity

Nothing excites kids more than building something that allows them to launch projectiles! That is why the catapult project is one of the most popular classic STEM activities. This time we are creating a fun twist by building a Catapult Cannon, then playing a game that will put STEM minds to the test!

Catapult Cannon Recycled Materials STEM

Catapult Cannon STEM Activity and Game Launching

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What is a Catapult?

A catapult is an ancient weapon used by the Greeks and Romans. It launched stones, spears, and other projectiles, to destroy a target in the distance. It was one of the most effective weapons used by the army during the war. 

In modern times, the catapult has become a well loved STEM challenge in classrooms around the world. 

Learn more about the catapult in our Craft Stick Catapult project

HOW TO MAKE A SIMPLE CATAPULT THAT SHOOTS FAR

Now we all love the simple Popsicle Stick Catapult, it is a simple STEM project but the results are not always as impressive as we would like. They simple don’t shoot very far. So for this project we wanted to build a catapult that shoots far. That means we need more force and energy.

For our project inspiration we turned to a beloved character, Mr. Bean. Mr. Bean, whom we have all grown to love, always brings a smile to our faces with his funny tactics. But did you also know that Mr. Bean has some STEM skills? Watch the clip below of Mr. Bean finding a solution for two tennis players who have hit their ball out of the court, by using recyclables from the trash and making a catapult to get the ball back to them.

If Mr. Bean can do it, we can all take some recycled materials and build a cool launcher! In this fun activity, you are going to build a catapult cannon out of recycled materials. We are calling it a Catapult Cannon because this project packs some serious energy and shoots far!

Materials

Catapult Cannon STEM Activity Materials

2 cardboard tubes, slight different diameters – one must fit into the other and easily slide back and forth
A small piece of cardboard
2 thick rubber bands
Dowel stick or pencil
Masking tape
Glue gun 
Scissors
Variety of projectiles (different balls, crumpled up paper or foil, and plastic toys)
A target – a bin, a box, or a range of different targets

NOTE OF CAUTION: This is a powerful launcher, and should only be done as an outdoor game or in a large space, under adult supervision. If you play indoors, please use soft projectiles. Never aim these at another person or anything that could be damaged. 

CHECK OUT THE VIDEO OF THIS PROJECT

If you can’t see the video, please turn off any adblockers as it blocks the video feed. The video provides a visual of building this project. For written instructions with detailed step by step directions, see below.

INSTRUCTIONS

Trace one end of the inner tube onto the small piece of cardboard and cut out the circle.

Glue the circle onto the top of the inner tube. Use a piece of masking tape to secure it to the end of the tube.

Cut 2 slits, 2,5 cm deep, on the top of the outer tube, on one side, and another 2 slits opposite, on the other side.

Put your rubber bands into the slits on either side. 

Secure the rubber bands in place and strengthen the top of the tube with a piece of masking tape around the edge  

Poke a hole with scissors, in the open end of the inner tube, 3 cm up from the edge on one side. Do the same on the other side.

Push the dowel stick or pencil through the holes in the tube.

Catapult Cannon pieces

Push the inner tube into the outer tube, pull the elastics down on either side and secure them to the dowel stick.

Finished Cannon Catapult

PLAYING THE CATAPULT CANNON GAME

First, it is important to test the build. This is a great chance to explore the physics involved in this projects, and the variables that affect your outcome. 

First, test the catapult to see how far your catapult can launch the different projectiles. This gives you a good idea of where to place your target.

Next, launch the projectiles at different angles, so you know which angle would be the best to hit the target.

Test the tension. You can control how much to pull the rubber bands back, to get the best launch.

Catapult Cannon STEM Activity and Game

HOW TO PLAY

The point of the Catapult Cannon game is to see how many projectiles hit the target, in 1 minute. You can have each student build their own catapult cannon, or they can work in teams. Don’t be afraid to challenge your students to come up with their own design innovations they think will increase performance.

In each round, everybody must fire the same projectiles to ensure a fair game.

Ready, aim, fire! The winner is the person who hits the target the most times. 

APPLYING MATH SKILLS

Add some extra STEM challenge to this project by having students put their math skills to use while playing the game. You can even assign points based on distance. The person who gets the most points/distance, wins! 

To do this, simply create a starting line to ensure everyone is standing the same distance from the target. This is a great activity to do in groups.

Have your students launch a projectile.  

Measure and record the distance it travelled with a tape measure.

Launch a different projectile each round.

How does changing the projectile change the results? What do you think lead to these differences?

HOW DOES A CATAPULT CANNON WORK?

Pulling the inner tube out towards you, causes the elastic to stretch. Tension builds up and creates Potential Energy. Releasing the inner tube converts this energy to Kinetic energy. This is Energy of Motion

Any projectile placed inside the inner tube will move at the same speed as the outer tube. When the inner tube stops, the projectile continues to move forward. This is Newton’s First Law of Motion. An object in motion stays in motion until gravity pulls the object toward the ground, and it stops.

REMEMBER TO HAVE FUN!

MORE STEM PROJECTS FOR KIDS

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DIY Rocket Launcher blasting off!