For several years, I taught technology and computers in the public schools for upper elementary, middle school, and high school. Prior to that, I taught all subjects in middle school and high school including many special needs students. Of course, I had more vision during those years as I have Retinitis Pigmentosa. In the years that my boys were in scouting and I was Scoutmaster, the activities I did with them were often similar. Of all the things we did like building bridges out of paper and wood, making egg packages for safe drops, robots and other stuff, I have to admit building a life-size catapult with the scouts was my most memorable. Recently, I was sent a product from Pitsco, Inc. that brought back a lot of fun memories from those days. You see they sent members of the TOS Crew some projects to review. I received the trebechet and catapult kit or siege machines from one of my favorite periods in history, medieval times.

For grades 5-12 with some extensions below if providing lots of help or group effort, the siege engine is sure to provide many hours of educational fun, if not chaos. The kit provides the parts for two projects: a trebuchet and a catapult with each being suitable to lay siege to any number of miniaturized castles or villages. The spiral-bound guide provides history, numerous historical trivia facts, safety guidelines, and activities teaching concepts from science, technology, engineering, and math. You will also find additional resources to supplement and enhance your study, as well as, all the national teaching standards covered by the activities. You are given just what you are needed to begin your exploration of the fun and learning of siege machines and even going beyond.

The projects were easy to assemble. From the easy-to-remove, pre-punched parts to gluing (specific type of glue is required and doesn’t come with the kit, but it is sold by Pitsco, Inc. and is easy to find at other online sites, inexpensively) to final construction, the steps were fairly easy to follow. The pictures were a bit dark, but they were ok. You will need a few tools, but they are inexpensive and found in most homes already or can be purchased at hardware stores.

As far as accessibility, hands-on projects are usually very good for a variety of special needs students including tactile learners, learning disabled, ASD students, and even blind and DeafBlind students. For those with reading issues and learning disabilities who have trouble following complex steps, I actually made a list of step by step instructions for each of the projects simplifying the steps into easier language and more manageable steps. For blind users and myself, I scanned in the instructions making sure that the document was scanned using the Optical Scanner Recognition (OCR) software and saved it as a .txt file easily used by a brailled display. Adobe .pdf files cannot be read by a braille display. On an Apple machine, a .pdf file can be read if it is a text file and not a picture or.jpg file. There is a template page for using to bend the metal clips into specific shapes for holding certain pieces together in specific ways. I used thin lines of puffy paint or plain white paint can be used, too. This allowed me to feel how the wire needed to be bent and let me do that part myself. Even as old as I am, I still like to do as much of a project myself as I can. I am sure most students are the same way. It isn’t very fun just watching someone else do everything. Even if a child can only hold a piece as it is glued or wire is inserted and clasped, the child really feels a part of the project and remembers more if allowed to do even the smallest of things to help. The details were not hard to follow and didn’t take that long to complete, but the sense of accomplishment even for me was empowering.

Hands-on and simple designs are truly a great way to explore the complex concepts of math, physics, engineering, problem solving, and history. Even these small versions are great ways to learn, but don’t be surprised if your students ask to build a life-size one. Well, I won’t tell you not to, since I loved throwing water balloons from the one we built, but I would say consult a Boy Scout first! Smile…

To check out the Siege Machines kit or any of the other Pitsco, Inc. projects, head to http://www.shop-pitsco.com. You find this kit in the Homeschool area for $21.95 . Price-wise. the kits are  good. I paid more money in the past for less quality materials or simply had to scrounge around for my own which was often difficult. The convenience and affordability will be pluses for your homeschool. Remember it is always best to learn by doing.

To read other reviews about this product and others from The Old SchoolHouse Crew, go to the TOS Crew blog.

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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