In which Miss Molly unseats her opponent.

What makes science fun? Well, apart from there being so many different applications for it in our everyday lives, finding something that is seemingly not science related and relating it to science is an absolute joy.

Take, for example, Jousting—the Medieval sport of two armored men, mounted on horses, who ride at full gallop toward one another carrying wooden lances with the ultimate goal of to unseat the other, or at least break a lance, sometimes a bone or two.

“What science is there in jousting?” you might say. “It’s just entertainment at Renaissance Faires/costumed pageantry/ overly armored alpha-males.”

Well, let me tell you something…there is a lot of science behind those costumes! Especially when taking into account Newton’s equation: F= M x A. Force equals mass times acceleration. When considering that jousting is all about the high speed collision of wood, man and metal, the outcome of which depends on the size of the man, the speed of the horse, and the angle and impact of the lance, it is fascinating.

For one of my Mangled Messes programs, the science program I do with 9 to 12 year olds, I decided that we would look at the science behind jousting.  At least, the basic science behind it.

It was awesome.

Of course, we couldn’t really joust. I couldn’t secure enough horses or Dwarven armor before the program, so I adapted the lesson for balloon jousting. I saw this video about the activity and just KNEW we had to try it.

We talked about the equation, about armor, about angles, and I showed the kids some videos about real jousting. Most of the kids had never heard of jousting, let alone seen it. I don’t think they knew quite what to think. They were at once amazed, appalled, and astounded. I love when this happens. The discussion that we had after the video, but before the activity, was awesome. They talked about things like the ground affecting the horses’ running ability, the weight of the armor, the man, and the lance. It was awesome having them make those unprompted observations.

As we only had an hour, I brought the discussion to a close, and we started our activity. I based it along the same lines as the video above. We started with un-armored balloons. I had each participant blow up their balloon and then pitted them against one another, seeing whose balloon pushed the other’s backwards. We discussed how the winning balloon won because of the differences in built up air pressure inside the balloon. We related this back to the F=M x A equation. While it isn’t perfect science, it does illustrate the concept in a way that is relate-able for 9-12 year old minds.

Then came the jousting bit: the skewers. We attempted to see if anyone could pop another jouster’s balloon. Skewers were positioned on the tops, sides, underneath, and angled downward on the balloons. Each jouster had a different way to position the lance in the hopes of ‘unseating’ an opponent.

After the initial jousting round, I allowed them to armor their balloons as protection from the skewers.

I think this was their favorite part. They absolutely coated their balloons in duct tape. But, this bought up other really interesting issues. All the armor weighed the balloons down! So they talked about the need to balance protection from an opponent with the need for speed and agility.

All in all, I was incredibly proud of my kids. They did a great job, they had fun, AND they really discussed the intricacies of the science concept we were looking at. I think they weren’t quite aware of just how into the concept they were, but sneaky learning is the best learning.


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