First-grade scientists build trebuchet for Citadel competition

First graders, from left, Antwone Smith, 6, and Madison Smith, 7, watch the ball fly after launching it from their trebuchet during training for a trebuchet competition Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 at St. Andrews School for Math and Science. (Paul Zoeller/ Buy this photo

First-grade teacher Carmelina Livingston is thrilled that six of her students will make up the youngest team ever to participate in The Citadel’s annual trebuchet competition.

If you go

What: Storm The Citadel! trebuchet competition

When: 9:30 a.m. Saturday

Where: The Citadel, Summerall Field

What: Engineering Fair

When: 8 a.m.-noon Saturday

Where: Buyer Auditorium, Mark Clark Hall, The Citadel

More information: An event where middle and high school students participate in model bridge building and robotics competitions.

But 6-year-old Aryan Kapila focused on the hands-on aspects of the exercise. “I get to say, ‘Blast off!’ ”

The team from St. Andrews School of Math and Science will demonstrate that students as young as 6 and 7 years old are ready to begin learning the skills that will prepare them for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Livingston said.

It will be one of 40 teams, which range in age from first grade through adult, participating in the Saturday Storm The Citadel! competition, which is sponsored by the military college and Google. Each team must build its own trebuchet, which looks much like ancient catapult.

The teams will use them to launch balls, fruit and sacks of flour across Summerall Field. Citadel spokeswoman Jennifer Wallace said this is the competition’s third year, and about 1,000 spectators are expected at the event, one of several scheduled to celebrate National Engineers Week.

Livingston’s students gathered Friday to practice launching tiny superballs with their trebuchet.

Students already had learned about distance, and had begun to learn how to aim for a target.

Madison Smith, 7, said she knew that if students counterbalanced their trebuchet with more weight, it would launch “missiles” farther. And she was writing down how far each launch sent the ball.

She said it’s important to collect raw data.

Livingston said students use the data for classroom lessons such as constructing graphs and charts that they can use to better understand their progress with the trebuchet.

And progress is important. At the competition, the team will be have to launch an object between 10 and 25 feet, and hit a target, she said. Friday, it was launching balls around 11 feet.

But the practice sessions also teach students to think critically, solve problems, collaborate and be creative, she said. “We’re going to need some more practice,” Livingston said, “but they understand what the goal is.”

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