Trebuchet Day comes to Lansing

LANSING, MI – A group of Lansing-area middle school students will be competing in a unique challenge of math, science and ancient weaponry. The kids will be firing trebuchets they built with the help of Michigan State University and Impression 5 Science Center.


On a breezy, sunny afternoon about two dozen kids have armed and loaded their weapons. Seven trebuchets, each standing nearly eight-feet tall are lined up at Lansing's Marshall Street Amory. Pattengill Middle School is straight in front of them its fortress-like walls impenetrably solid and dauntingly high.

Plans for this mission started about two months ago, when this group of 7th, 8th and 9th graders got a crash course on these medieval siege engines. Trebuchet's are a type of catapult that use an arm with a large counterweight to throw things at their targets. But before these kids can attack anything, they need to build them. And they start with scale models.

Impression 5 Science Center's Melissa Ballard says this after-school program is part of the museum's education and out-reach efforts.

"A lot of kids haven't handled tools much." She says, "So I think it's pretty cool that they're learning how to use tools, how to conceptually put things together, which I don't think they have the special reasoning skill to do, or might not encounter in school."

She says when they're done, they'll use their working models to study ballistics the science of throwing things.

"They're just learning the relationships between weights and distances. So we'll be working with graphing that. And they'll also be learning to set up tests and their hypothesis. A little more of the scientific method."

Their mini-trebuchets are a little more than a foot tall and are weighted with steel washers they can throw a small wooden block well over nine feet.

The kids also helped build their full-sized trebuchets in the basement of the Marshall Street Armory appropriately enough.

Paul Jaques is with Michigan State University and helped develop the program. He says even though it has a strong math/science component, the students involved aren't necessarily the ones who might volunteer for such a mission.

"We didn't want their top 5 kids. We wanted the kids in the back putting scissors in the outlet. We want them to get some hands on stuff and then, ultimately it's fun. We're shooting stuff."

Saturday, May 8th, 7 teams will compete in Trebuchet Day. In the middle ages armies used boulders, kettles of flaming oil, dead cows and even diseased corpses to wear-down their castled opponents. These kids maybe aren't so lucky they only have plastic milk jugs filled with water. And instead of storming the castle, they will take aim at plastic-bucket walls in wadding-pool motes.

Trebuchet Day is Saturday, May 8th from 10:00 to 2:00 at the Marshall Street Armory.