To chuck a pumpkin |

To chuck a pumpkin

Science Olympic event a hands-on lesson in scientific method, teamwork

Bridget Manley

— Moffat County High School seniors Chet Peterson and Saraya Hammond had one goal in mind: to chuck a pumpkin farther than anyone else.

As they tested their spring-loaded catapult with a load of tangerines, they kept lookout for the air cannon that bested them last year.

They said they had a good chance – “as long as that cannon doesn’t show up,” Hammond added.

The second of four Science Olympic events Friday afternoon not only gave Peterson, Hammond and other students a chance to test their ingenuity, it also brought them face-to-face with science.

By researching, designing and testing their own pumpkin launchers, students learn about scientific method, Physics teacher Roger Spears said.

They also learn about working with one other, he added.

The event was open to all students who wanted to participate. In teams, students designed and built launching devices – no class time and no teacher help allowed.

The contraptions ranged from catapults to slingshots to trebuchets – a medieval-looking device that launched its load using a system of counterweights.

Some devices took longer to build than others.

During five hours the night before, Michael Zehner, Sam Leonard and Mike McNicol constructed their wooden trebuchet.

“It was an on-the-go project,” Zehner said.

Building their steel catapult took Peterson and Hammond two and a half weeks last year. Tweaking the design for this year’s competition took two or three days.

In contrast, sophomore Brandon Maigatter’s slingshot took an hour or two to build.

Its components were simple compared to the others: half of a round dog toy, two steel posts and two rubber snubbers, or long stretchable rubber strips.

He was inspired by watching his peers complete their own pumpkin launchings last year.

“I thought, ‘That looks awesome – I’m gonna do it,'” he said.

Spears said he hopes more students standing on the sidelines will respond similarly, observing both the flaws and advantages of the designs and use them to make their own pumpkin chuckers.

Observers had multiple opportunities to see the strengths and flaws of the launchers when Spears handed out 4-pound pumpkins to each team.

Some launched farther than anticipated. Others fell short. And one launched backward.

When the pumpkins were gone – and in the post-Halloween season, pumpkins were scarce – the teams launched watermelons, cantaloupes and fistfuls of tangerines.

In the end, Peterson and Hammond’s hard work paid off. With no air cannon to compete with, their catapult, powered by a pair of garage door-opener springs, launched the pumpkin farther than any other team.

Maigatter’s slingshot didn’t propel the pumpkin as far as Peterson and Hammond’s launcher could. But he wasn’t concerned with landing first place. Instead, he was in the competition just to have fun, he said.

“I think it went pretty well,” Spears said after the last pumpkin was gone, adding that his students’ laughter during the event had proven they could have fun and learn at the same time.

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