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Learners build simple catapults and use them to launch cotton balls. Learners can see Newton's second law of motion in effect; pulling the catapult arm back further creates more force and thus more acceleration of the cotton ball. This activity can be combined with other activities to create a larger lesson. Resource contains vocabulary definitions and suggestions for assessment, extensions, and scaling for different levels of learners.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 2 wooden blocks
  • 1 thin strip of metal banding (8 in. long)
  • 1 protractor
  • 4 long nails (or a C-clamp, or duct tape)
  • 1 small nail
  • 1 cotton ball
  • 1 hammer
  • Tape measure or meter stick


  • Mathematics
    • Algebra
      • Patterns
      • Variables and Expressions
  • Physical Sciences
    • Motion and Forces
      • Acceleration
      • Projectile Motion
      • Newton's Laws
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Duren, Sabre ; Heavner, Ben ; Schaefer Zarske, Malinda ; Carlson, Denise

Source Collection

  • TeachEngineering


  • All rights reserved, Regents of the University of Colorado, 2004

Funding Sources:

  • Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE)
  • U.S. Department of Education
  • National Science Foundation, 0226322