Co-Lin gets hands-on with catapult

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, December 8, 2011

    For most classes, homework doesn’t involve gloves and eyeprotection and extra credit doesn’t require a trip to the hardwarestore.


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    But Dr. Brett Shufelt’s history classes at Copiah-Lincoln CommunityCollege aren’t most classes.

    If there was any doubt among his world civilization students as tothe distinctiveness of his teaching methods, that doubt was allayedWednesday when they attended a live demonstration of a trebuchetlaunch on campus.

    “This weather is perfect since it was snowing this morning,” saidShufelt, going on his eight year of teaching at Co-Lin, ofWednesday’s conditions. “This is Dark Ages weather.”

    A trebuchet is similar to catapult, and a challenge to build aworking model for extra credit regularly occurs in Shufelt’s worldcivilization courses.

    Previous models, modest in size, sit in Shufelt’s classroom. ButWednesday’s war machine was much larger in size than anything astudent has built before.

    But as Shufelt’s classes are no ordinary classes, Nathan Runnels isno ordinary student.

    “Nathan, he’ll write forever,” Shufelt said of the Co-Linfreshman.

    Runnels, a Copiah Academy graduate, began work on the trebuchetwith his dad around Halloween.

    Things soon expanded beyond the tabletop models students hadpreviously produced.

    “We decided to go over the top with it,” Runnels said.

    Runnels and his father, Michael Paul Runnels, worked on the projectand continued to make modifications up until about a week ago. Inthat time, Runnels has clocked at least a hundred launches.

    Runnels has thrown footballs, softballs, water balloons and evenpumpkins. He estimated the farthest the trebuchet has thrownsomething was 100 yards.

    “That’s about the most we could get it up to,” Runnels said.

    Wednesday’s live firing demonstration was not an anomaly, butflowed out of Shufelt’s approach to his teaching.

    Shufelt’s classroom looks more like a laboratory than a typicalclassroom.

    Previous trebuchet models, at least three, are on the floor. Mapsare tacked up everywhere on the walls.

    Wednesday, Shufelt wore a military helmet in class.

    “They feed off the interest you have,” Shufelt said of students,explaining the level of enthusiasm he approaches his lectures andclasses with.

    Earlier in the semester, students in the same world civilizationclass got some experience in Greek warfare.

    Shufelt had the students make shields and then armed them withbamboos spears.

    “We got out and got into the phalanx,” Shufelt said, describing amilitary formation used by the ancient Greeks.

    Shufelt believes such hands-on activities engage his students inthe material more than a traditional lecture format.

    “It brings more out of it for them,” Shufelt said. “This day andage you’re competing with so many things.”

    It’s an approach that has resonated with Runnels, who has signed upfor classes in American and world history next semester withShufelt.

    “I have him every day next semester,” said Runnels, who has alsochanged his major from music to history. “It goes beyond bookwork.”