Trebuchet trials is a 4th-grade level science education kit for Microsoft's Hacking STEM initiative. Our experiment teaches the transformation of energy using a papercraft trebuchet, Arduino, and a digital interface. 

Step 1

Build a trebuchet with regular classroom stationary.

Step 2

Set up the required physical computing apparatus.

Step 3

See what happens while playing with our software.


Oliver Engel.
Javan Wang.
Sakshat Goyal.


User Research.
Usability Testing.
Digital Fabrication.
3D Modeling.
Low fidelity crafting.

Problem Space:

To build an affordable inquiry and project-based activity to visualize data for 4th-grade students that satisfied any particular NGSS standard. The activity should cost no more than $10 per student.


Building a science activity using an Arduino kit and classroom stationery with a data visualization medium that could be made for ~$4.

Project Timeline.

Timeline_Trebuchet trials

Ideation and Down-selection.

idea-grid (1)

We tried to think of close to 21 ideas for classroom activities that satisfied specific science standards. Based on

  1. the excitement they created; and
  2. our ability to prototype them given the time and resources we had, 

we selected 3 ideas for us to prototype that we tested with a group of children, courtesy of the KidsTeam.

Usability Testing 1: KidsTeam.


Video prototypes.

by Javan Wang.




Showed potential for being a group activity.


Could lead to a chaotic classroom environment with projectiles flying around.

by Sakshat Goyal.


Hydropower Turbine.


Fascinated kids about electricity.


The water would create a messy classroom environment.

by Oliver Engel.


Seeing Sound.


Fascinated kids about sound.


Too difficult to execute within the given time frame.

The objective of the trebuchet would be to show the relationship between kinetic and potential energy.

The counterweights would help determine the potential energy, which would affect the speed of the swing arm generating kinetic energy.

Project Objectives.

To create a 

  1. High fidelity model of the trebuchet that could be made by digital fabrication methods.
  2. Low fidelity model of the trebuchet that could be made with regular classroom stationary.
  3. Medium for data visualization of the kinetic and potential energy.

Behavioral Prototype.

cad behavioral




  1. Test user engagement with the activity.
  2. Usability of the trebuchet model.
  3. Test user interaction with the data visualization component.

Usability Testing 2: With participants.



We confirmed that the activity was age appropriate and generated excitement and curiosity for learning how kinetic and potential energy is related.


The digital interaction seemed redundant to all participants. 

The trebuchet itself was a little fragile.

Next Action.

We needed to help the data visualization component integrate with the trebuchet in a better way.

User Research through Usability Testing.

We found an opportunity to test our improvements on the trebuchet model in a classroom environment at the Kokanee Elementary School.


  1. Understand how the activity could be divided and how kids would collaborate with one another.
  2. Understanding the crafting limitations of our target audience.
  3. Test how kids could assemble the trebuchet with just the instructions given.



Usability Testing 3: Kokanee Elementary School.

What we learned.

  1. Craft skills of our target audience that was valuable while designing the low fidelity prototype.
  2. Kids needed a "challenge" element in the interface.
  3. The trebuchet did not create a chaotic classroom environment, disproving our speculation.

During the process, we had to familiarize ourselves with Arduino. We had a small exercise of building a responsive and interactive nightlamp using everyday low-cost materials. 

by Javan Wang.

by Sakshat Goyal.

by Oliver Engel.

Functional Prototype: Designing the interface.


The movements are monitored through an accelerometer wired to the Arduino board with the system reseting after one complete swing. 

For our final testing stage, we wanted to observe how kids interacted with the model and software.

Usability Testing 4: KidsTeam.

IMG_20190307_161330 (1)

This testing session should us that the users were able to relate the physical activity with the digital interface due to the visual feedback received with the physical and the digital swing arm moving.

Building the low fidelity model.

We also designed a low fidelity trebuchet that could be made by classroom stationery accessible by 4th graders.

Iteration 1.

Iteration 2.

Final activity design for 4th graders.


Winning the best implementation award at Microsoft.


Don't just watch, give it a try!


By the end of the process, we had a "forest of trebuchets" in our studio. Testing and iterating on the same idea till the point of satisfaction was the key to our success.

What made this project unique was a selfless and relentless dedication among the three of us to take the constraints we had and turn them into strengths. 

Next Steps.

For this particular project, the next steps would be further testing in classroom environments. 

Participatory design methods could be a valuable tool for trying to further iterate on the interface to understand how we could pique curiosity towards these fundamental scientific principles.

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