High School STEAM Design Challenge

March Madness TEA style!

Our 9th and 10th graders recently did battle in our own version of Medieval Warfare, in the first ever “Siege of TEA — A Game of Thrones Story.”

They were given an open-ended challenge to launch a grapefruit as far as they could. Using a $200 budget they had to engage in a week-long engineering design process, inclusive of planning, budgeting, shopping, building, testing, iterating and finally…competing!

On Friday, teams used their ballistas, trebuchets and catapults to see who could launch the grapefruit the furthest and with the best degree of accuracy. Everything that could go wrong did, but in the end they persevered with some machines flinging melons about 300 feet! Here’s the day by day recap of the STEAM fun!

Day 1

We kicked off March Madness running. Day 1 students spent the day researching and studying how to build their weapons of choice. Students were given an open-ended challenge “Launch a grapefruit as far as you can” and almost no other details. Students were given $200 a group to go wild and build what ever they could imagine.

As a way to break up this hectic day, we took a small break to compete in the Lockheed Martin duct tape competition to see which student could hang onto the wall the longest using only duct tape

Day 2

Tuesday’s students were pushed even further, needing to complete their own budgets, calculating everything down to the tax, as well as finding materials that can be sourced at a Reno Home Depot. Here we met our first curveball when the busses were canceled, and you all showed up to save the day, shuttling students to Home Depot. Once there, it was like a scene out of a game show. Students running around tossing materials into their carts and asking employees for help. Most teams really tested their financial literacy skills and spent within 4 dollars of their $200 limit. Once all of our new supplies, including over 30 2×4’s, made it back to TEA the full design sprint was on.

Days 3 and 4

Day 3 we got together as a full high school and had a group discussion on climate change and our individual role in it. Then we looked at what the future might be if we all just take small steps to help out. Once we got back to working on the launchers (good) chaos ensued. Sawdust was flying and drills were buzzing away as everyone knew that the clock was ticking away and students only had 1 more day to get their launchers functional. At this point, it was clear that everyone at this school has their own way of thinking, as no two projects resembled one another. From trebuchets to giant ballistas powered by a crank, no one could tell what team was going to come out on top.

Day 5

Our last day of March Madness was both stressful and amazing. Everyone spent the first half of the day doing some much-needed final improvements on their launchers. For a lot of groups, everything that could have gone wrong did, and so these first few hours were going to make it or break it for a lot of teams. By lunch though, all the teams had gotten their launchers working and within the hour melons went flying. We saw ballistas, catapults, and trebuchets fling melons almost 300 ft. At one point, we even had TEA’s rendition of a pirate cannon launch a grapefruit almost 1/5 of a mile while also scaring everyone within a 2 mile radius. Overall it was an amazing week where students were pushed to their limits through engineering design and data collection for future physics classes.

Student Takeaways

“I really enjoyed working through the design process and learning about stuff that we would not get to in other settings and getting to work through all of our ideas… I also like Home Depot” – Lyle Stone (10)

“That we should have built a spud gun instead of a trebuchet. It was cool though. Also physics, got to learn about physics.” – Callie (9)

“Wandering around Home Depot was definitely the best part” – Emmy (9)

“Working with classmates and friends, we made something extraordinary together as a team”- Summer (10)