Students at Fort St. James Secondary School built trebuchets and tested them out using the leftover pumpkins from the pumpkin walk. Pumpkins were flying across the FSJSS field up to a distance of 130 feet.

Students at Fort St. James Secondary School built trebuchets and tested them out using the leftover pumpkins from the pumpkin walk. Pumpkins were flying across the FSJSS field up to a distance of 130 feet.

Physics – in real life

How do you make physics interesting and concrete for high school students who grow up with iPods and Xbox?

How do you make physics interesting and concrete for high school students who grow up with iPods and Xbox?

Why you build trebuchets to throw jack-o’-lanterns flying through the air of course.

A project hatched by teachers Julie Macdonald and Gary Soles at Fort St. James Secondary School (FSJSS), the first every FSJSS trebuchet competition was born.

What is a trebuchet you ask? If you weren’t familiar with the term, it is (according to the all-knowing Wikipedia) a “siege engine used in the Middle Ages.”

A trebuchet uses a counterweight and the power of gravity to hurl an object through the air.

An object perfect for bringing physics to life and demonstrating the effects of gravity.

In order to entice students and teachers to sign up for the competition, Soles and Macdonald used a miniature trebuchet built by Ross Dagenais to hurl a tennis ball across the school gymnasium during a school assembly.

Teams of two to five students signed up and designed their own trebuchets – with the help of Google, of course – and each one took an estimated 40 hours to make.

After all the hard work was done, with students dedicating after school and lunch hours and some class time to creating their machines, there were six teams still in the game by the end of October and only the teacher team of Soles and Macdonald made the cut.

On Nov. 1, after the Pumpkin Walk was done and there were a great many leftover jack-o’-lanterns on hand, the testing began and the FSJSS field was the target.

The pumpkin carnage showed the visible effects of gravity on the field and demonstrated the success of the seven trebuchets, with the teachers’ trebuchet making the longest throw of about 130 feet and the students’ trebuchets all in the 100 feet range.

The first place prize went to Nick Burdeniuk and Eric Vinnedge, who won hats and scarves donated by Mount Milligan, and some iTunes cards provided by Macdonald.

“It was quite impressive,” said Coles.

The teachers hope to hold the competition again next year and include participation from the community if possible.