Project of the Week: Physics Classes Build Projectile Launchers


Dylan Conover

Platteview Physics 2 class is jumping into two-dimensional motion by building homemade projectile launchers. Using a conglomeration of popsicle sticks, rubber bands, hot glue, and a variety of other utensils and materials, students have constructed catapults, mini bows, and slingshots to help visualize the fundamental variables of motion.

Under the direction of Ms. Wulf, students formed groups to build a launcher that tested how changing one of four variables impacted the displacement, or true distance, covered by a projectile. Groups tested the effects of height change, initial velocity, launch angle, and projectile mass on the displacement of their projectiles. Furthermore, Mrs. Wulf said students learn “what a valid experiment should look like and what is credible data; how to work together to accomplish a common goal; and how to understand projectile motion and the variables that influence how far your projectile goes!” Physics may seem irrelevant on a day-to-day basis, but gaining a general knowledge of physics concepts is vital to understanding motion.

As groups built their launchers, students had to adapt when their launchers didn’t work as planned. Claire Snodgrass (12) said, “I learn to integrate a variety of problem-solving skills as I and my group construct a projectile launcher.” 

Sometimes, students can have a hard time understanding the usefulness of monotonous calculations. “My hope for this project,” said Ms Wulf, “is that students see the math we are doing on paper in action!” For avid physics student Jackson Plueger, this was definitely the case: “I’m learning about kinematics and math and how it pertains to real-life problems.” Students particularly interested in engineering and math have found a refuge in the world of physics.

Even students who aren’t as interested in mathematics have enjoyed the class. Ally Kuhl (12) said, “Physics 2 is too fun,” because she enjoyed using her hands to build a launcher. Junior Joanna Engel agreed: “[this project] helps me learn that there’s room for improvement in my arts and crafts abilities.” 

Every class has more to offer than what it seems, and physics is no different. “Physics 2 is a useful class,” said Ms. Wulf, “because it gives students further opportunities to investigate the mechanisms of the dynamic world around them,” and building projectile launchers has done just that in a fun and engaging way.