Engaged STEM learning using catapults

2015-12-14T10:12:52Z (GMT) by Peter Willmot Antony Sutton
This paper describes one element of a year-long module for mechanical engineering students that is designed to enhance student engagement and improve professional skills. This mini-project embraces the concept of ‘enquiry based learning’ within a challenging student-centered team project. The intensive and competitive project was scheduled early in the first semester as a vehicle to assist students to adjust to their new surroundings at a time when there were no other lectures or classes. The 160 strong cohort was divided into tutorial teams of 6 and started with a review of the mathematical concepts related to simple kinematic systems and the laws of motion. Teams were then exposed to designing, manufacturing and testing a floor mounted catapult and competing to out-perform others through their efforts. Strong bonds became apparent among team members and the willingness on the part of many was shown to work beyond normal class hours were observed because of the exciting and motivational challenge. An online survey provided evidence that, in addition to substantial social benefits, the exercise proved a powerful vehicle for enhancing practical understanding of fundamental mechanics that had been revealed as generally lacking in freshers.