Friday, December 9, 2011

Our House is a War Zone

No, we're not fighting. Nobody is angry. 
Actually, everyone has been laughing it up 
and having a great time for the past week. 

Last week, the guys got out the Medieval Machines kit we received from Pitsco and began putting it together one night after Hubby got home from work (that's why he looks tired in the pictures). 

The Medieval Machines kit comes with parts for assembling models of a catapult and a trebuchet, the weights needed for counterbalancing the machines, modeling clay (to make into projectiles), and a Seige Machines book that tells about the history of the weapons and includes learning activities for both, as well as lists of the math and science educational standards that can be addressed by using this kit. 

You must supply a few tools of your own, such as needle nosed pliers, wood glue, a hobby knife, and a measuring tool, but there wasn't anything that was not readily available in Mom's tool kit (yes, I have my own tool kit for the projects I do around the house, and yes, some of them are pink with flowers on them...they work fine, nonetheless).

Here's how our experience using the very intriguing and exciting hands-on learning tools from Pitsco went.


Do you see what I see? They poured their glue on my cutting board!! 
I guess it is better than on my did come off.

Hubby and Tex found out that correct assembly of the machines requires two important things: time and ready access to the directions (and a willingness to read and follow them). Working together, Tex and Hubby got the primary assembly of both machines done in an hour after dinner, but then had to set them aside to dry overnight. 

Hubby, who is an avid direction follower and checker at work, went over things before calling it quits and found one small error with the trebuchet, which was easily fixed, thanks to the fact that the glue dried very slowly.

This is where eagerness to get it done (and use it!) overtook 
Tex's willingness to read the directions...Hubby is pointing out 
to Tex that these two pieces are not to be glued together, but to be 
inserted into small slots a quarter of an inch apart. 
Oops! It's a good thing the glue does take a while to dry...


Since it is December, and we generally work it out so our academic schedules can be lighter during the Christmas season, mom was kind and allowed the kids...all five of spend the day building Lego fortresses, in preparation for the battles to come.

After Hubby got home on the second day, it took him and Tex a bit over an hour after dinner to finish assembling the two models (with stops for making more ammo, adjustments to fortresses, and interacting with the younger kids). The catapult was a bit more complex to assemble than the trebuchet (which would have been very easy for Tex to do alone...actually, at age 14, he could have done both models alone as the directions were quite clear).

It wound up being the Three Amigos (Boo was in bed due to a cold...poor little guy) and Hubby with the catapult against Tex with the trebuchet. Hmmmm. Four against one. I wonder who will win?

Both sides started with an ample supply of clay "cannonballs" (though I guess if they are for a catapult and a trebuchet, they aren't really cannonballs, are they?) and other ammunition (Lego heads, Lego people, fuzzy poof balls, Playmobile animals).

The little ones got a first shot off with Hubby's help. The catapult was too complex for little ones to operate alone. The stated age range for this kit is Middle School and up, which seems to be accurate for independent use, though the Three Amigos all got a real kick out of being a part of this project. They did not help with the assembly of either machine as it required tools that were not safe for their use (such as the cutting tool), and it would have been way over their heads.

Firing the catapult, or at least loading it for Hubby to set up so they could pull the trigger, was definitely within their ability levels, though! They actually fired a few heads (attached to cannonballs), but they never quite managed to hit their target...Tex. The shot up above fizzled out in the river between the two fortresses. Hubby had a bit of trouble figuring out how to aim the catapult properly.

Retribution for an attack came quickly from the trebuchet's side. This machine was much simpler to operate, but seemed to lack the range of the catapult (which could zing projectiles across the dining room and into the kitchen when aimed correctly), and the power. 

It was, however, more accurate, at least in our experience, and Tex scored a hit on the Amgios' fort right away. He knocked down a horseman, got his dad at least once, and then he sent Bob (above), a traitor to Tex's cause (whatever that was), to his doom by flinging him across the table. Bob did not make as accurate a projectile as the clay balls, but it was funny.


Next time, Mom says that the Amigos get to use the trebuchet and Tex can use the catapult. The catapult really was more difficult to load, and took longer to set up each shot. Hubby struggled with the small thread/string that was used on the machine. I wonder if the catapult took longer to load in real life? We will have to look into that...I love it when something fun sparks a desire to learn more about science, history, or anything educational. This fun kit definitely does that.

The kids are still building onto their Lego forts in anticipation of another battle this weekend using more interesting ammunition (Mom has promised to buy a bag of mini-marshmallows), and Tex has pulled out his copies of Backyard Ballistics and The Art of the Catapult by William Gurstelle to read again.

Here's what Tex had to say about his experience with this kit:
  • It was awesome!
  • We loved using it with the Legos. We had a great time making forts and played with them for days...actually, we've still got them out all over the dining room table (Mom says she enjoyed watching the kids of all ages, including Hubby, interact and laugh together).
  • I wish my stop-animation software was working because I can think of some cool medieval battles I could film using these tools! I am going to call the software company tomorrow and see if they can help me get it reloaded on my new computer. (he chuckles in anticipation)
  • These will be great when we study Medieval History next year. I looked up how they used these weapons and not only did they fling rocks (which were the most accurate projectiles, especially when spherical in shape), but they flung barrels of burning oil, baskets filled with venemous snakes, their enemies' heads, rotting (and sometimes diseased) carcasses, and manure. What guy wouldn't like studying that?? ;-)
  • The possibilities for alternative ammo sources at our house are numerous. Let's see, mini-marshmallows, M&M's (can you hit my open mouth as a target?), Goobers, Goldfish, and the list goes on...I will make sure I wear protective eye gear. ;-)
  • I want to try a few of the experiments in the book that we did not get to yet (because we were having too much fun goofing around and doing our own experiments). There is one that tests which type of rubber band works best for the catapult, and I'd like to see if I can find an alternative to the thread that will make it easier to load. I'd also like to see how different weights of clay balls affect the trebuchet's performance, as well as see how changing the weights on the catapult affects its performance.
Pitsco offers more than just this one kit. They offer many hands-on educational tools that provide just the right combination of fun and learning to boost your kids' interest in math, science, and history. Their homeschool department sells robotics kits, alternative energy packs, engineering packs, and history kits (such as the one we tried). Each of these kits integrates the different disciplines as much as possible, so that students will see the significance these disciplines have in the real world, and not just in the classroom. 

In our kit, there were activities for all three disciplines: tension vs. torsion, elasticity, gravity, levers, force, and motion, as well as studies of the history and significance of the weapons, measuring distances, calculating averages, and metric, history, and math all in one fun package.

Kits range in price from $10.95-$89.95. Our kit was about average for the company, at $21.95, which I thought was a great price for all we received. Sometimes it can be difficult to engage the interest of boys, and you can take my word for the fact that this kit is likely to have your boys' interest from the day it arrives in the mail. If they are on the younger end of the age spectrum (11-13), they may need some help completing this project, but you are going to have fun, too, so that won't be a problem!

We had a great time trying out the Medieval Machines kit from Pitsco and will be using it throughout this year and next. The machines are sturdy, made of quality materials, and will undoubtedly stand up to whatever the kids put them long as I can tame their idea to start hurling each other toward the trampoline...just kidding (they'd have to build a larger model to achieve that goal, thank goodness!).

To see what experiences other TOS Crew members had with this fine product, click HERE.



Disclaimer: We received the Medieval Machines kit in order to facilitate our ability to provide a review of the product here on my blog. What you read here are our family's experiences and opinions about the product, and in no way guarantees that your own will be the same. However, we will only recommend products we truly appreciated and enjoyed. If there are questions about our experiences with this product that I did not answer, please feel free to comment or to contact me.

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