Teaching Methods

Pumpkin Projectiles

You can smash your Halloween pumpkins! Each year at our science center, Discovery Center Museum, they will launch your pumpkins (up to 8kg) with their 10 ft trebuchet which is loaded with 400 lbs. (Why they limit by kg, but load with lb, I have no idea)

As a last minute thought, I blasted a text to my students: determine the initial launch velocity of the pumpkins. Double the points if you confirm the presence or absence of air resistance. Present in claim, evidence reasoning form. Have it ready for Monday.

Naturally, I couldn’t let my kids have all the fun (or the answers) so we went together as well. The pumpkins go way too fast/far/high to collect enough data at 60 fps, so I filmed in slo-mo (here is the original video), tracked the pumpkins on Vernier’s Video Physics app…


Of course, I had to see the graphs right away…oh so pretty…

then loaded the spreadsheet into excel and adjusted the times for the slow-mo camera. Additionally, since I had been given the specs in feet, I had to convert the units to meters. (I used the length of the base of the trebuchet to set the scale).


Screen Shot 2017-11-06 at 9.09.14 PM
Can we just discuss the beauty of these regressions? The vertical velocity is broken into three parts: the launching, from release to peak, and from peak to ground. You can see how quickly air resistance comes into play. The weird fall off tail is where the iphone goes back to 60 fps in the last moments of the video


Oh how beautiful thou art, quadratic functions! Yes, air resistance is a factor, slowing the acceleration to about 3 m/s/s. There’s also a horizontal acceleration of about 1 m/s/s as well. Launch speed worked out in the ballpark of 12 m/s.

My kids who went are still crunching their numbers…we’ll see what they can produce!



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