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Science project creates excitement for local students
Villa Grove, Arthur and Arcola students line up their trebuchets at the pumpkin throwing contest at Rockome Gardens. Submitted Photo

It isn’t often that a tailgating crowd comes out to see a science project.

However, nothing about the project taken on recently by Arthur, Arcola and Villa Grove high schools is ordinary.

The high school students all spent weeks working overtime toward the same goal: to produce a trebuchet capable of catapulting a pumpkin across a field at Rockome Gardens in Arcola.

A trebuchet is a weapon used in medieval times to attack European castles. It is similar to a catapult, except the trebuchet uses weights for launching instead of a spring, said Mike Reynolds, Arthur High School construction teacher.

Supported by the Regional Office of Education as a cross-curricular activity, the three schools agreed to design and build their own trebuchets to compete against each other in a pumpkin-throwing contest at Rockome Gardens.

Students in Arthur volunteered to come in after school to work overtime on the project and designed T-shirts advertising it.

An Arcola class dug around the hardware store looking for materials that could be used for their project.

“We took it on as a challenge,” said Phil Hise, Arthur Junior/Senior High School principal.

Designing and building the trebuchet was a partnership between the physics and construction classes at the schools.

The physics class needed to come up with ideas on how to make the trebuchet launch feasible, while the constructions class worked on building the actual full-scale trebuchet, said Jesse Durdel, Arcola High School science teacher.

In Arthur, Reynolds said the project was beginning to draw the attention of the entire school.

“This has been one of the most exciting things for the kids,” Reynolds said.

Arthur High School life sciences teacher J.D. Graham said his class wasn’t even involved in building the trebuchet, but he still stayed up late nights for a week trying to learn the ATreb computer program the classes would be using to configure the trebuchet.

“There was so much enthusiasm with the kids and the teachers — it kind of snowballed,” Graham said. “You just don’t see that kind of excitement every day. It just got better and better.”

Arcola students had some experience creating trebuchets; during the last school year they built one which, unfortunately, didn’t last long, Durdel said.

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Last year’s experimental model was placed on a small trailer and as it was crossing the street in front of the school it fell off the trailer and smashed to bits, Durdel said.

This year, the teachers and students knew they needed to weigh their new trebuchet down a little better before taking it out for a test run.

The trebuchet Arthur created, mostly from materials donated from a supportive community, is weighted by nearly 1,000 pounds of tractor weights and is 16 feet wide and 10 feet tall, too large to be stored anywhere inside the school building, Reynolds said.

Leading up to the competition, Reynolds told the students and teachers not to leak any information about their trebuchet design.

Of course, Reynolds joked, it was difficult to keep the design too top secret, as it was visible to anyone driving by the school.

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The launching competition took place a week ago with the communities out in full force to tailgate and watch the launch.

Students from Arthur wore the shirts they designed themselves, with “Over Knight Delivery” printed on the front, a pun on the school’s mascot name.

Rockome Gardens designed its own trebuchet, so Rockome and the three schools tested their creations out in the categories of accuracy, school spirit, and distance.

Arthur’s team won for school spirit and distance, as one pumpkin shot more than 450 feet.

Arcola’s trebuchet got first place for accuracy,and Durdel said he noted the designs of the other schools at the competition.

“We were really impressed with the size of Arthur’s trebuchet, and the unique design of Villa Grove’s device,” Durdel said.

With the competition over, Arthur students have not quickly forgotten it, as they continue to work on plans to make it even better for next year, Reynolds said.

Arcola plans to dismantling its device for the time being, Durdel said.

“We’ll pay our respects,” he said.

Contact Amber Williams at awilliams@jg-tc.com or 238-6858.

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