Dec 072011

Do you have a future engineer in your home? A model lover?

How about a history buff? Or a child who is interested in wars or weapons?

The Pitsco Medieval Machines Pack is a fantastic resource for any of the above students and many more. Designed to be used by students about 5th grade and up, this pack contains kits to build both a model catapult and a trebuchet. Also included are weights for the trebuchet, clay for launching, assembly instructions, and a manual with experiments to perform using the catapult and trebuchet.

Both of the machines are made of strong but lightweight basswood. The pieces are stamped into a single piece of wood and are punched out just before assembly. The assembly required a few additional items, such as glue and a hobby knife. My 13 year old son assembled both the machines with minimal assistance from me. He thought the trebuchet was more difficult to assemble than the catapult because the instructions were not as clearly written. Also the sling for the trebuchet required tying knots in string, and it was difficult to achieve the same length of string on both sides of the sling to make both sides even.

After assembling the machines, the real fun begins. In the Siege Machines book are various experiments designed to be performed with the catapult and trebuchet.

The catapult experiments begin with mass versus distance. Different sized clay balls are launched from the catapult, and the distance the ball travels in the air is recorded for each. This experiment is followed by two math sections to practice converting between the English and metric system and calculating averages. Then the physics behind the catapult is explained, followed by another experiment testing different rubber bands.

The trebuchet section begins with an explanation of the science behind the trebuchet. I found this very helpful, because I was not familiar with a trebuchet before this project. There is a discussion on prediction with an experiment testing different masses of projectiles and different masses of plates. Further experimentation with the trebuchet involves attaching wheels and learning about their affect on the operation of the machine.

This is hands-on learning at its best! Students gain valuable skills in following instructions while assembling the machines. They can learn about the uses of the catapult and trebuchet in warfare, while learning about physics. Students learn firsthand about experimental error and the need for repeating data points. I’ve had my son go a step further and use EXCEL to plot the data, so he’s learned about using formulas in spreadsheets, as well as curve fitting tools. He also has made a video of the assembly and each of the experimental points. He was able to understand the motion of the trebuchet much better after watching a launch in slow motion.

Here’s my son’s finished video of the catapult assembly and a trial launch.


Here’s the trebuchet in action.


The Medieval Machines pack is available for $21.95 from the Pitsco website. They have many other interesting products too! My son and I have thoroughly enjoyed these projects, and I highly recommend them. Thanks Pitsco!

PhotobucketPlease visit the Homeschool Crew Blog to read other reviews of the Medieval Machines pack.

Disclosure: I received this product for free in exchange for my honest review of the product. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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By Kristen H.
Sep 152011


It’s kind of a dirty word to students and some educators. It invokes images of tedious copying of spelling words or rote recitation of math facts.

And in all honestly, it’s not something that has been a strong point in our homeschool up to now. I’ve got some “good” reasons. (Or maybe I should call them excuses since I’m being honest.)

  • Son #1 has been blessed with a memory that doesn’t require much drilling.
  • The attitude about drill has been less than stellar.
  • It takes me time  to go through flashcards or quiz effectively.

But to lock something into long-term memory there is going to be some drill required. Really. There is just no way around it. One could make the case that anything someone uses often they will remember, and if they don’t use it often enough to remember, then they can just look it up or figure it out when they need it. But I personally disagree. There are some things that I want my children to KNOW.

I was excited to find that I had been selected to review Big IQ as a member of TOS’s Homeschool Crew. Ideal for students in 2nd through 5th grades, Big IQ kids is designed to make practicing spelling, vocabulary, math, and even learning the states more fun than flash cards. In addition, children are rewarded for their time spent practicing with credits in the game area.

I assigned my middle son to work on Big IQ kids, since he is the only one in my family that falls in ideal age range.

We started out with math on the default setting.  There were a lot of problems in the problem set! (I think it was 50.) That was way too many for my son to do and maintain his focus.

Thankfully, I found the option to modify the math lessons.

That was a huge help. You can customize the problems so that your child is practicing what he needs to practice, and you can customize the length of assignments.

My son loves maps so he tried out the U.S. States program next.

I like the way this game starts out very easy. In Level 1, the student is shown the location, spelling, capital, and abbreviation and asked to click on it or copy it. But I wish that there was an option to turn off State Spelling. Or maybe make it Step 4. Typing in the spelling of the states (even though it was just copying) was too tedious for my son, who has difficulty reading and types by copying one letter at a time. So we didn’t get very far with this section.

The final section that we tried was the spelling/vocabulary section. First, I had the program generate a word list. The words were reasonable, but I soon realized that to use our time more effectively, I should enter my own spelling lists. That was simple to do.

Practicing the spelling words on-line was helpful to my son. It was nice that the program automatically included a definition of the word too.

Overall, I think this is a good program to provide extra practice in a fun way. Our favorite was definitely the math portion.  I recommend trying out the free versions and seeing if they program is a good fit for your child.

All of these programs are available in both a free and premium version, except the Spelling program. The Spelling is always free! The main difference between the premium and free versions is the progress tracking capability in the premium versions. The programs are available by subject, so you don’t have to subscribe to the whole program, just the subjects that you will use. You can compare the free and premium math versions and the free and premium state versions in greater detail on the website.

The MathFacts Program is available for $9.99/month or $49.99/year. The U.S. States Program is available for $39.99/year.

PhotobucketFor more reviews of Big IQ Kids, visit The Homeschool Crew Blog.

Disclosure: I was given a free subscription to both the U.S. States and MathFacts Programs in order to do this review. All opinions expressed are my own.





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By Kristen H.