The time between Halloween and Thanksgiving seems to be a perfect storm of distraction for students. I think it's the sugar high combined with the promise of not one but two vacations. The goal, at all times, is to engage and teach students but during this time of year it seems exceptionally difficult to reel the kids back in.
I believe I have found an (unorthodox) solution: Punkin Chunkin. I have seen this special on TV in recent years and it has grown exponentially since it's inception.
From a historic point of view, trebuchets, 'centrifugals', catapults and 'torsions' are just some of the contraptions built by the teams competing. In a middle school setting students could learn about medieval weapons, how they were built, what they were used for and, see video of how effective they were. Video clips of each of these contraptions with an explanation of how they work can be found here: http://science.discovery.com/videos/punkin-chunkin-videos/ Working in teams middle school students could study each type of weapon, do a presentation and, as a class, make a comparison about which they think is the most effective weapon. Extra credit could be given to students that watch Punkin Chunkin on November 24th and do a short write up.
From a high school science point of view students could study the physics behind each weapon, design their own and present to the class. The presentation would include estimates on how far their contraption could throw, fling or catapult based on angle of elevation, force and mass of object. Again, extra credit could be given to students who watch the show and do a write up maybe even a presentation for the week after Thanksgiving.
At first I thought this was a bit far-fetched but there's a huge amount of science and math that goes into these contraptions and the devices are historically accurate with the exception of the materials being used. The videos are just fun to watch and the show is just a great hour of television.
I will say that the site is a bit overwhelming. Do not hesitate to comment with questions about where specific things are. I'm happy to send direct links.