Age range: 7-11
Duration: 60 or more mins
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  • D & T

Marshmallow catapults

Building a structure that launches marshmallows into the air

The word ‘engineer’ was originally used to describe people responsible for building siege weapons in ancient times. When laying siege to towns and castles, it was common practice for skilled specialists to build catapults in an attempt to break down defences and demoralise the defenders. One particular type of catapult was the ‘onager’ – this was named after a type of wild donkey that was well-known for having a vicious kick. The specialists who constructed this were purportedly called ‘onager-neers’ which eventually became ‘engineers’.

Catapults need to have a structure which is both strong and stiff, otherwise the forces they experience when used can cause them to break. A catapult made from square shapes can be made significantly more rigid and less likely to collapse by adding reinforcement to form triangles. This principle is still widely used in civil engineering, for structures ranging from cranes to aircraft structures and the roofs of buildings.

Activity info, teachers' notes and curriculum links

This activity could be used in Key Stage 2 as a short design & technology project. It could also be integrated with history and drama; for example, pupils could act out a short script following the development of the catapult. One group of pupils could be villagers, based in a hill fort. Other groups could represent different invaders through the ages, armed with different types of catapult (such as small Viking catapults, mangonels, onagers, trebouchets, couillards etc.), who describe their devices and their capabilities, and invade the village. In addition to the history and development of catapults (which can be found on many websites, including Wikipedia), this allows the opportunity for era-appropriate costumes!

The activity sheet includes teachers' notes, useful web links, and links (where appropriate) to the national curriculum in each of the four devolved nations; England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

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All activity sheets and supporting resources are free to download, and all the documents are fully editable, so you can tailor them to your students' and your schools' needs.

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