McKINNEY – The smack of wood striking wood reverberated throughout the sixth grade halls of Dowell Middle School on Friday, Oct. 25 as students operated miniature wooden catapults called “statapults” to explore physics and engineering alongside volunteers from Raytheon.

It was just one of several engaging learning and leadership activities that students tackled during the first LASER (Leadership and Science Ensure Results) STEM Day at Dowell, an event that will be repeated in coming weeks at Cockrill, Evans, Faubion and Scott Johnson middle schools.

LASER is a project-based learning curriculum developed through the collaborative effort of Raytheon and McKinney ISD. Raytheon supplied approximately $19,500 to fund the original program which was embedded in the district’s high school physics classes during the 2010-2011 school year. Raytheon engineers and managers visit the classes every other month to work with teachers and students on four different modules that focus on 21st century leadership skills.

The 2013 Dowell LASER STEM Day marks the introduction of the sixth grade curriculum which was made possible, in part, by a $17,000 Raytheon contribution.


Launching small rubber balls of various size and composition, the sixth graders sought maximum distance by adjusting variables to tweak their statapult’s performance. In another activity, they built “Puff Mobiles” and were allowed one puff of air to move the device as far as possible. Along the way, Raytheon engineers encouraged innovation while providing expert guidance and feedback.

Dowell Middle School sixth grade students prepare to launch a rubber ball with their 'statapult' during the Raytheon LASER STEM Day.

Dowell Middle School sixth grade students prepare to launch a rubber ball with their "statapult" during the Raytheon LASER STEM Day.

Teamwork, leadership and communication were major themes of the day. The first activity of the morning gave students a chance to learn more about themselves through a personality assessment. Then, they were placed in teams to practice effective communication while building puzzles. The culminating activity of the day called upon the students to hone their presentation skills through discussion of the activities, the challenges they faced during the day and what they learned through the process.

“The students had an eventful day as they collaborated about the design of their Puff Mobiles and the data collected from their Ballistic Statapult,” said Chaurcley Cook, McKinney ISD Coordinator of Secondary Science.

“Middle school is an important time to introduce career opportunities and help students make the important connections to their everyday learning in the classroom. One student told me, ‘I like learning this way,” and another liked learning about what the engineers do at Raytheon. One student said, ‘I think I want to be an engineer.’”

For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications Coordinator, at 469-302-4007 or


About McKinney ISD

One of the fastest growing school districts in Texas, the McKinney Independent School District currently enrolls more than 24,000 students in 20 elementary schools, five middle schools, three high schools, one alternative school and one early childhood education school. The mission of McKinney ISD, the champion for progressive learning throughout the diverse McKinney community, is to inspire and equip all students to explore, develop and express their unique potential as innovators, critical thinkers and collaborators through challenging, engaging and diverse learning experiences in vital partnership with the community. Visit the district's website at