Using mathematics with homemade catapults

This semester in grade 9 and 10 mathematics we have focused on understanding the properties and graphs of certain types of functions including linear and quadratic functions. In our unit on quadratic functions, students were taught various methods of both graphing and solving these functions and were introduced to situations where quadratic functions could be used for modeling purposes.

The culmination of this unit on quadratics allowed for our students to take their knowledge of quadratic functions outside of the classroom in order to participate in an M&M’s catapult contest! The students were initially given a budget of 100 Argentinean pesos. They worked in groups of three to decide what the best model for their mini catapult would be, and to buy the materials to build their desired catapults. Some groups worked with a mouse trap as the main structure of their catapult, while others used clothespins, pencils and even a skateboard!

After the catapults were ready and each team had tested their device by shooting M&M’s through the hallways of the student residence, the six teams were ready to compete against each other. The competition involved shooting an M&M into a desired target – a pot. However, in order to do so each team needed to first find the quadratic function that modeled their M&M’s path after being shot from their respective catapults.

The teams gathered in the backyard of the student residence on a Friday afternoon with tape measures, pencils, calculators, notebooks and of course, a packet of peanut butter M&M’s. Each team performed many shots with their catapults and measured the time taken for their M&M to hit the ground as well as the distance it traveled. Using this information, the teams were given the task of finding the quadratic function to model their M&M’s trajectory.

After around an hour of catapult shooting and data modeling, it was finally time for the eagerly awaited catapult tournament. A pot was placed in the middle of the backyard, and the students needed to use their quadratic functions to figure out where to place their catapults in order to target the pot. Each team was given three tries to hit the target, and in the end only one team was able to shoot their M&M in.

The day ended with the students having a longest distance catapult shooting competition and M&M prizes were awarded to all for their participation and enthusiasm!


  1. Thanks for such a great post, I am totally impressed! Keep stuff like this coming.

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