Educational Resources Lets Talk Science Challenge participants

Two children listening to sounds

Two children listening to sounds (Helgi Halldórsson [CC BY-SA], Wikimedia Commons)

Sound Travels

Digital Programs Team
Format
Text,  Images
Physics,  Waves, Sound, Light,  Science
Sound
Five Senses

Summary

Students develop and apply comparing & contrasting and observing & predicting skills as they explore how sound travels.

Overview

Students explore how sound travels using a variety of materials. 

Timing

30-45 minutes

Setting the Stage

The ability to observe involves more than just our sense of sight. It involves using all of our senses to gather information. In this inquiry, students use the skills of observation to find out about more about our sense of hearing, and why we are able to hear the sounds that are all around us.

This inquiry could begin from:

  • questions and/or comments from students about different sounds they hear on their way to school. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “What are some of the sounds you were hearing?”
    • “What was making the sounds you heard? What words would best describe the sounds?”
    • “Which part of your body allows you to hear the sounds?”
Boy using headphones
Boy using headphones (Source: Bokskapet via Pixabay).
  • a book such as Listen to the Rain. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “How does the author help us to “hear” the sounds in the poem?”
    • “What sounds did you hear? What was your favourite word sound from the book? Why?”
Cover of Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin Jr.
Cover of Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin Jr. (Source: Open Library).
  • listening to music. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “What instruments do you hear? How would you describe what a [instrument] sounds like to someone that is not familiar with it?”
    • “Is there a person singing in this piece of music? How can you tell?”
Girl playing a piano
Girl playing a piano (Source: allegralchaple0 via Pixabay).

 

Details

Materials
  • metal spoons (enough for 1 spoon per 2 students) such as teaspoons or tablespoons, ice cream scoops, serving spoons or ladles, etc.
  • paper or Styrofoam cups
  • paper clips (one per cup)
  • pieces of string about (enough for a piece 60 cm long for each spoon and a piece 3 metres long per 2 cups)
  • small pebbles (several)
  • bowl with water
Suggested materials for sound activities
Suggested materials for sound activities (©2019 Let's Talk Science).
Preparation
  • Consider using a learning strategy such as Making Comparisons to support students’ development of the skill of observing.
  • Educators may wish to:
    • pre-cut the string required for the spoon (30 cm lengths) and cup telephone explorations (3 metre lengths)
    • poke a small hole in the center of the bottom of each cup
    • thread a piece of string through the cups
    • attach the ends of the strings to paperclips (to keep the string from slipping through the bottom of the cups)
       
What to Do

Students use the Making Comparisons learning strategy to develop Comparing & Contrasting, Observing and Predicting skills as they learn about how sound travels.

Students:

  • explore a collection of images of human and animal ears.
    • Educators engage with students during this exploration, noticing and naming what students observe and asking questions that provoke further development of the skills of observation and comparing and contrasting.
    • Educator works with students to consolidate observations (e.g., about the different ways ears are designed), prior knowledge, predictions (e.g., why animal ears look different from human ears) and theories (e.g., about how ears hear the sounds around us).
Head of an elephant
Head of an elephant (Source: Mister-E [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons).
  • describe what they see when they toss some pebbles into a bowl of water.
    • Educator works with students to consolidate observations (e.g., about how the surface of the water moves), prior knowledge (e.g., familiarity with water waves), predictions (e.g., the direction of movement of the waves from the point where the pebble enters the water) and theories (e.g., about why the water is moving in waves)
Beaver making ripples in a pond
Beaver making ripples in a pond (Source: Joe Mabel Joe Mabel [CC BY 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons).
  • tie a piece of string to the middle of a metal spoon, allowing approximately 30 cm of string on either end.
  • wrap the ends of the string around their index fingers, allowing the spoon to dangle in front of them.
  • place their index fingers in their ears and tap the spoon against various surfaces in the room (e.g., the edge of a table, a soft pillow, a metal window frame, a drinking glass, a coat, the tile floor, an arm, a shoe) and describe the sounds.
    • Educator asks students to predict what the various objects will sound like (i.e., loud vs. soft sounds).
    • Educator asks students to compare and contrast the sounds from each surface.
  • repeat, this time striking things more gently, and again with more force.
    • Educator asks students to predict what the various objects will sound like and compare to initial observations.
  • describe and record their observations and compare and contrast them with the observations of other students.
    • Educator asks students to explain why they think they were able to hear sounds when they had their fingers in their ears.
  • repeat the inquiry, this time cupping their hands over their ears instead of putting their fingers in their ears. Students record their observation.
An educator has a metal spoon tied with yarn and the ends of the yarn are wound around her index fingers. Her fingers are in her ears as she taps the metal spoon against an empty drinking glass
An educator listens to sound made by a spoon on a string (©2019 Let's Talk Science).
  • compare and contrast the results with those of other inquiries.
    • Educator facilitates construction of cup telephones if this was not done ahead of time.
  • each student takes a cup and walks away from the person at the other end of the string until the string is straight and taut.
  • predict what will happen when they take turns being the listener (cup to ear) and the speaker (talk into the cup, relatively quietly, but louder than a whisper).
  • confirm their predictions, describing the quality of the sound (e.g., loud/soft, clear/fuzzy).
  • repeat, letting the string go slack.
    • Educators ask students to predict how the results will be the same or different, and why they think that.
  • repeat, staying the same distance apart and speaking at the same level but without the telephone.
    • Educators ask students to predict how the results will be the same or different, and why they think that.
  • record what they observe and compare to their predictions and their previous observations.
    • Educators ask guiding questions to help students make conclusions based on information collected (e.g., air is not always the best transmitter of sound).
Boy listening to ‘cup telephone’
Boy listening to ‘cup telephone’ (Source: Lepro via iStockphoto).
Assessment

Observe and document, using anecdotal comments, photos and/or video recordings, student’s ability to:

  • Predict – students predict how sound will travel through various materials and what will happen to the sound when variables of the telephone change.
  • Observe – students observe and describe their observations.
  • Compare & Contrast – students compare and contrast information gathered about how sound travels through different materials.
  • Communicate – students explain their theories.
  • Communicate - students use appropriate language to describe sounds and how they are produced.
  • Draw Conclusions - students draw conclusions based on information collected during the experiments.
Making a loud sound using a metal can and string telephone
Making a loud sound using a metal can and string telephone (Source: Ryan McGuire via Pixabay).
Examples of hard and soft surfaces
Examples of hard and soft surfaces (Source: Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay).
Co-constructed Learning
Students:
Saying, Doing, Representing
Educator:
Responding, Challenging
Students observe, explore and ask questions about a collection of images of human and animal ears, and predict how sound is heard by living things.
  • “What do you notice about the ears of the students in our class? What is the same about them? What is different? Why do you think people’s ears are shaped the way they are?”
  • “Which animals have ears that look the same as ours? Which ones look different? Why do you think animal ears are shaped differently than ours?”’ 
  • “How do you think sounds get to our ears? What makes you think that?”
Students describe what they see when they toss some pebbles into a bowl of water, and rethink predictions about how sound is heard by living things.
  • What words would you use to describe what you saw when we tossed the pebbles into the water?”
  • “How might what we observed in this experiment help us to build our theories about how sound gets to our ears?”
Students predict what will happen when a spoon on a string is tapped against a variety of different surfaces.
  • What do you predict you will hear when you tap the spoon against a soft surface? Against a hard surface?”
  • “What do predict will happen to the sound when you tap the spoon against a metal surface? A wooden surface? A glass surface?”
  • “Why do you think the sound changed?”
Students compare and contrast sounds made in the spoon on a string experiment, checking against the predictions they made.
  • What words would you use to describe the sound you heard when you tapped the spoon against a metal surface?”
  • “How did the sound change when you tapped the spoon against a softer surface? A wooden surface?”
  • “Describe how the sounds you heard were the same or different when you cupped your hands around your ears? Why do you think this happened?”
  • “How does what we learned from this experiment affect your thinking about how sound gets to our ears?”
Students predict what will happen when they use the ‘cup and string telephone’ to speak and listen.
  • What do you predict will happen when your partner speaks into the ‘telephone’? Why do you think that will happen?”
  • “What do you predict will happen if you do not put your ears right against the cup?” “Why do you think that is?”
  • “What do you predict will happen when you let the string go slack between the two cups? Why do you think that?”
Students compare and contrast sounds made in the paper cup telephone experiment.
  • How would you describe what you were you able to hear when your partner spoke into the ‘telephone’? How does this compare to speaking into a real telephone? Is the sound as clear?”
  • “How would you describe the sound when you let the string go slack? How does this compare to when you listened when the string was taut? Why do you think this is?”
Students use information gathered to draw conclusions about how sound travels.
  • What did you notice when we tossed the pebbles into the water? Does this remind you of anything you have seen before? How do you think this experiment is connected to our other sound experiments?”
  • “What did we discover how sound is changed?”
  • “What conclusions can we make about how sound travels through different objects and materials? Why do you think that?”

 

Cross-curricular Connections

Literacy

  • Ask questions (e.g., about why sounds are different, about how deaf people hear)
  • Communicate thoughts, feelings and ideas (e.g., theorize about how sound travels, talk about sounds they like and don’t like)
  • Use appropriate vocabulary (e.g., “The wave pattern in the water looks like when we skip stones in the pond.”; “I can see the string vibrating.”)

Mathematical Thinking

  • Measure length using standard and/or non-standard units (e.g., measure different lengths of string for the paper cup telephone)

Physical Education

  • Identify the five senses and describe how each function, specifically hearing and sound
Extending the Learning

If your students are interested in learning more, the following may provoke their curiosity:


Repeat the paper cup telephone inquiry with the following variations. In each case, students should make predictions, explain the reasons for their predictions, check their predictions and compare the results to previous inquiries.

  • Have a third student hold on to the center of the string of the cup telephone with his/her hand, to discover how this affects the sound.

“What happened when someone took hold of the string between the two cups? Was this you predicted? Why do you think that happened?”

Hand holding on to string between two cups
Hand holding on to string between two cups (©2019 Let's Talk Science).
  • Have two pairs of students crisscross their strings, putting four telephones ‘on the line’.
    • “You predicted xxx would happen when we crossed two sets of telephone strings. Was your prediction accurate? Why/why not?”
Crisscrossed telephone strings
Crisscrossed telephone strings (©2019 Let's Talk Science).
  • Reconstruct the telephone using longer or shorter pieces of string, and/or a different material instead of the string (e.g., fishing line, wool yarn).
    • “How did lengthening/shortening the string change the sound? Why do you think this happened?”
Different types of materials used for cup and string telephones
Different types of materials used for cup and string telephones (©2019 Let's Talk Science).
  • How can you show someone who cannot hear what sounds are like? (e.g., how would you show a loud sound, a soft sound, a high sound, a low sound?) 
Supporting Media
Cover of Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin Jr.
Cover of Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin Jr. (Source: Open Library).

Listen to the Rain
by Bill Martin Jr
This book evokes the beauty and the mystery, and the sounds and the silences of rain.
ISBN: 9780805006827

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