Candy flies in gym as students calculate the best trajectories

With teachers encouraging the students, M&Ms, Skittles, Teddy Grahams, Goldfish crackers, Swedish Fish, mini-marshmallows and gum drops went flying across the small gym at Waynesville High School, all part of an activity called "Catapulting at Christmas."

Just before the holiday break in December, WHS math instructors Mrs. Errica Gayman-Vaughn and Mr. Bill DeMalade put their Algebra II students' knowledge of advanced math to a real-world test. Students used catapults to launch wooden balls (projectiles) to produce a parabolic shape. From this collection of data, the students discovered the mathematical connections between their projectiles, the shape of their trajectory and the shape of a parabola.

In theory, the project seemed complicated. In reality it was fun for these two classes of seventh hour students to spend a week in the gym divided into 12 groups, working with different team members from each of the classes.

Once students became comfortable with using a catapult, they began collecting data to create their quadratic equation. The students ended up with three points that allowed them to use the school's TI-84 graphing calculators to input their data and determine the quadratic equation for the arc of their projectile.

"After each group completed their practice trials, we then pitted two groups against each other with a given target that we called their castle that they had to destroy," DeMalade says. "It required the students to calculate where they had to place their catapult to hit the given target. The closer to the middle of the target, the higher or the more damage it caused to another team's castle."

Teams continued to battle, practicing calculations and perfecting their techniques. After the battles, the students launched different kinds of candy and food items for the students to catch and eat.