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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pitsco Seige Machines Review


Pitsco is a company that has been around for over 40 years, and is focused on helping teachers and students succeed in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).  They produce STEM related curriculum, kits, teacher guides, and classroom tools.  And when they asked the TOS Crew to review the Medieval Machines Kit, you know I jumped at the chance!


The Medieval Machines Kit features everything you need to build a catapult and a trebuchet, as well as clay to use as your "ammunition", and a book filled with the history of the machines as well as science, technology, engineering, and math problems to work out that are related to each one.  The kit arrives as shown above.  The wood pieces have been cut through cleanly, and are easy to remove.  Once glued together (using wood glue or super glue) according to the instructions provided, the machines are quite sturdy and strong.  The finished catapult is about 6 inches long by 5 inches tall (with the arm fully released), and 2 1/2 inches wide.  It's the perfect size to pack some punch, but still be manageable but students of any age.  The trebuchet is about 10 inches long by almost 14 inches tall (with the arm fully released) by 2 1/2 inches wide.  It too is quite powerful but still a manageable size even for younger students.  The book contains activities such as comparing the mass of different sized ammunition verses the distance that ammunition is thrown by the catapult, or converting from English units (Imperial units) to Metric, or calculating averages, just to name a few.

The pros:  The catapult was very easy to put together, and was my children's hands-down favorite.  They immediately set about to create targets to land the ammunition in, an activity which delighted my 6 year old to no end.  Of course, she also enjoyed the Klean Klay that Pitsco uses for the ammunition and made full use of its modeling capabilities to craft a tea pot and tea cups...which her brothers promptly launched across the room via the catapult.  So, given that similar occurrences undoubtedly happened in history with anything that wasn't tied down becoming ammunition, I'd say we had success even before we opened the book!  The trebuchet requires a little more finesse to load and launch, so it had a bit of a learning curve, but to be honest, I think it's a WAY cooler machine!  Because you can vary the counter-weight and its placement, and the ammunition mass on the trebuchet, there are endless variables to try.  And while Pitsco sternly warns against it, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that, with 2 boys in my house, more than a few lego men were launched in the testing of these machines ;-). 

The cons:  The only thing I'd have to relay is that my husband reported the trebuchet was much harder to put together, and he felt like the instructions weren't clear enough.  I left assembly to him, but at one point when his frustration peaked, I did find myself wrapping string around the end of the trebuchet and gluing my fingers pretty nicely in the process.  Thankfully, we were using wood glue so my fingers weren't permanently stuck, but at that point, a dot of superglue would actually have probably have saved us a good of time and frustration since it is much faster acting.

The bottom line:  This kit is really, really cool.  The timing couldn't have been better for us, as my daughter was just studying simple machines in science when our kit arrived.  The experiments in the Seige Machines book are great and definitely enhance the educational value of the kit, as it suggests things I never would have thought of to do.  And the kit is very reasonable- $21.95 for both machines and the book!  Pitsco also sent us an extra box of Klean Klay, and that was very helpful as ammunition used outside tends to pick up dirt and grass, etc.  And ammunition used inside, at least in my house, tends to pick up dog hair, cat hair, or be turned into teapots :-).  I can't wait to check out some of Pitsco's other kits!

You can purchase the Medieval Machines Kit HERE for $21.95.  To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received one Medieval Machines Kit and one box of Klean Klay for free for the purpose of being able to give an honest review of these products.  Those materials were the only compensation I received.
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