Makerspace Challenge: Paper Airplane Catapults

As I mentioned in a previous post, I try to go into each club meeting by introducing the students to a new item we can use in our Makerspace, or concept to consider, or video to watch. At this point, we have plenty of materials and plenty of stations to explore, and I certainly don't want to keep adding 'stuff' just for the sake of having lots of 'stuff' in our Makerspace.

 From what I've read and from my own experiences, a Makerspace really shouldn't be all about the stuff. Much like technology use in schools really shouldn't be about obtaining all the latest technology without a learning need to support it, a Makerspace shouldn't just focus on the collection of item after item. Both should really focus on enhancing learning and critical thinking skills, the fun gadgets should always come secondary to that. I'm not saying that we won't ever try to get more or different materials, but it's impractical and takes away from the purpose of a Makerspace if we're just adding new things to play with every single week. I want students to explore what we already have and if they're very familiar with an item, I want them to either find new ways to make use of those items, or to dabble in something else. Our Makerspace Club is all about exploring and experimenting. In order for the students to grow as thinkers and tinkerers, they need to challenge themselves to try new approaches and try new things. 

With that said, I decided it was time for a challenge!

I follow some amazing Media Specialists and educators online who have been kind enough to share their Makerspace journeys. In Twitter posts I read by Colleen Graves and Diana Rendina, I learned that they were collaborating on a Makerspace catapult challenge where students created all different kinds of catapults. From the pictures and videos they shared, it looked like they had a lot of fun in the process. 

Middle school students actually being encouraged to fling things across a room in a competitive (and collaborative) manner? Now that sounded like fun!

The same day that I read about their catapult challenge, a fellow teacher gave me an old book he had about how to make paper airplanes...and so the VHMS Paper Airplane Catapult Challenge was born! The kids were given two club sessions to create their catapults and airplanes. They could work in teams or by themselves. At the end of the challenge, whichever team could successfully create a catapult that launched a paper airplane the furthest would win!

The challenges I've read about online have largely been with two different schools, which I  hope to do in the future, but just doing it within our club really worked great too. The spirit of friendly competition was in the air as the kids hid their catapult designs from each other and tried to test them out in secret! Humorously enough, they found that the catapults really limited how far a paper airplane could go when compared to throwing it, but that just made for more of a challenge! They used Legos, rubber bands, paper clips, pencils, or K'nex to build their catapults. There were a few who had never made a paper airplane, so the book came in very handy. They also experimented with different sizes and shapes of airplanes to see how they would fly.

The winning team ended up with an airplane that shot all the way across the Media Center! 

 The kids loved the challenge! They wanted to do more, but unfortunately we were out of time-until the new spring session begins after break! Our last winter club session would be taking place elsewhere as a special, celebratory field trip. It was totally optional to participate in this challenge, but most of the students jumped right into it. They were discussing trajectory, the weight of materials to use, the type of materials to use, and more. They experimented, and failed, experimented some more, and continued with different designs until they found a catapult and plane that would fly the best. They were collaborative and engaged critical thinkers!

Based on the great response to the VHMS Paper Airplane Catapult Challenge, I am hoping to have more challenges in our spring session of the Makerspace Club. Whether it be collaborations with other schools (please contact me if you would be interested), or fun competitions within our own club, having a challenge activity is a fun way to encourage a different type of thinking that inspires students to work together and really engage in many of the elements of learning and exploration that a Makerspace is designed to encourage!

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