Enough projectiles were flying through spacious Robert C. Brown Gymnasium last Wednesday morning to put every passerby on alert.
It wasn’t an athletic practice or a student riot. It was a math class—but definitely not your father’s math class.
Rather than listening to lectures and deciphering equations on worksheets, students in Lance Sawyer’s fourth-hour Tech Innovations class created homemade launchers to compete for points—as well as a grade.
The purpose of the new Pathways course is to allow the students to develop answers to problems using hands-on activities, according to Sawyer.
“We try to build their creativity while designing and producing solutions to problems,” he said. “The students also learn about what the engineering process entails.”
This particular endeavor, called “Project Projectile,” had teams of students designing and building different launchers within six weeks that could compete in Wednesday’s firing competition.
At the heart of the project was good-old mathematics.
“To build up to this project, I had the students develop a smaller structure to determine velocity,” Sawyer said.
“After they found how to calculate velocity using their small launcher, they experimented with the angle they were shooting. They then found that if they used the same velocity paired with a certain angle, they were able to hit the same spot every time.
“With this knowledge, their task was to build a launcher that could calculate velocity and angle in order to hit different goals and different distances.”
Each of the four teams in the class came up with a different style of launcher.
The team of Graham Pankratz, Kale Arnold and Tyler Funk came up with a T-shirt launcher based on a “spud gun,” or potato cannon.
Tristen Hett and Zach Anderson used the bow and arrow as their inspiration, while Jehoiada Schmidt, Jordan Bezdek and Caleb Bettles developed a launcher based on a catapult concept.
The fourth team, comprised of Josh Wiebe, Nick Reiswig, Tanner Jones and Garrett Foster, adapted slingshot technology for their entry.
The competition required the teams to fire up to three shots at a target—a child’s basketball goal with a throw rug in front of it—within three minutes. Each shot had to clear a 10-foot wire on the way to the target.
The teams took turns at five stations that were spaced at various distances. Points were awarded according to accuracy.
Wednesday’s phase of the project focused on shooting, but teams also were judged according to the aesthetics of their launcher, as well as a team notebook that was to include:
• original drawings of the launcher;
• scaled design drawings of the launcher from multiple angles;
• step-by-step building instructions;
• photos of the project from start to finish;
• the math used to calculate distance;
• a report describing how testing results led to design changes.
Team slingshot won the accuracy portion of the project, while the T-shirt cannon team earned the top score for aesthetics. The notebook and overall winners were still to be determined.
This hands-on approach to learning math has received high marks from the teacher and the students.
“I love teaching the hands-on learning,” Sawyer said. “I like to think of it as real-life learning. The learning that takes place is all problem-based.
“Everybody has different problems that come up during the creation-and-build that they are forced to solve. I am always amazed by the creativity and craftsmanship that these kids have.”
Senior Josh Wiebe, a member of the accuracy-winning slingshot team, said he has “really enjoyed” the class.
“A lot of the classes we take, you don’t really see the math or the lesson come to life,” he said. “But in this class we put the math and the information we learned into use.”
As for the math required, Wiebe said, “We had an angle piece that we pulled back, and we can calculate the angle using an iPhone app,” he said. “As for how far we need our projectile to go, we know at what angle we need to be and how far back to pull back each time.
“There are some formulas we used to calculate distance and angle per shot.”
Sophomore Graham Pankratz, who helped develop the air-powered T-shirt cannon, was pleased his team won the top award for aesthetics, but was disappointed in the accuracy competition.
“We kind of tied for last,” Pankratz said. “The accuracy wasn’t the greatest.”
As for the math: “We had to change the angle of our base, and we had to get enough (air) pressure for the angle so it wouldn’t hit the ceiling and be decently accurate,” he said. “It was just a lot of guessing and checking with the angles and the PSI in the (air) tank.”
As for the class experience, Pankratz had nothing but high praise.
“It’s by far my favorite class that I’ve taken in high school or middle school,” Pankratz said. “(Mr. Sawyer) told us the first day that this is going to be a hands-on class and you’re going to learn by doing stuff and not reading. I like a lot about that.
“I enjoy getting into the workshop and finding stuff that works and doesn’t work, and just the ability to make something,” he added. “Instead of a grade in the grade book, you have more of a solid thing that you can look at and be proud that you made it.”
The T-shirt cannon made its public debut at several late-season HHS basketball games and received a lot of positive feedback, Pankratz said. His team was asked to make a presentation to the high school site council on Monday.
“The guys were extremely excited to be able to shoot it at games,” Sawyer said. “It brings great exposure to the class, not only for the students but for the parents.
“I think the kids were excited to show off their project to the community. Anytime you develop a new program at the school, I believe it is important to keep the community involved and knowledgeable about what their school is offering.”