Investigating How We Hear

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SWBAT conduct an investigation of how we hear.

Big Idea

Introducing... the ear! Help your students plan and carry out an investigation of the ear.

Instructional Notes

This unit is broken down into two main parts: sound and light.  For the first half, we are investigating the question, "How do we communicate with sound?"  This essential question incorporates two NGSS standards as we are beginning to investigate the properties of sound and also moving towards the culminating engineering design product. 

  • 1-PS4-1. Plan and conduct investigations to provide evidence that vibrating materials can make sound and that sound can make materials vibrate.
  • 1-PS4-4. Use tools and materials to design and build a device that uses light or sound to solve the problem of communicating over a distance.

In the previous lesson, students focused on their sense of hearing as we took a listening walk.  At the end of the lesson, I asked the question, "How do we hear?"  Students began thinking of ideas to plan an investigation of the ear.  Today, we will finalize our plans of the investigation and then complete the investigation together.  Investigating how we hear provides pivotal background knowledge that prepares students for the subsequent investigations of sound and vibrations.

Throughout this unit, I use a KLEWS anchor chart to record our new learning.  This is a science-specific type of KWL chart designed with primary students in mind!  Check out this video I like to call KLEWS chart 101:


One of the most important aspects of the NGSS that occurs in the standards for light and sound is for students to "plan and conduct investigations."  This practice is important because it helps students understand the "why" of the lesson; why are we learning reading this or watching this video, why are we doing this experiment?  We are doing it because it answers our questions.  It also gives students ownership of their learning and understand that they are in control of their learning; this is a behavior we want to instill for life! 

Many teachers are grappling with the idea of "How can we move children towards planning and conducting investigations?"  It's a lot easier (as a teacher and as a district) to pre-plan an investigation and have the materials ready ahead of time.  But, this conceptual shift in the standards means that students plan and then teachers pull materials.  It's important to know where you want to go instructionally, so that you can guide the student conversation.  It is also important to have a variety of resources ready, depending on what your students suggest.  Today's investigation answers a question and seeks information.  The structure of today's lesson and collaborative conversations helps us prepare for additional investigations later in the unit that will find data. 

Here, I provide you with a number of resources that should help you respond to your students' plans.  As your students plan investigations, sometimes you conduct it on the same day, and other times you conduct it the following day.  If you have to pull together stations or materials, definitely conduct the following day!


5 minutes

In the closing of yesterday's lesson, I asked students, "How do we hear?"  Today, I put this question under the "K" (what we think we Know) section of the KLEWS chart.  I recap our thinking from the previous day.

Friends, yesterday we asked the question, "How do we hear?"  I have written it here on the KLEWS chart.  Below are the ideas we think we know about how we hear that you provided: we hear with our ear and sound goes down the hole in your ear to your brain.  We also knew there was something called an ear drum, but we aren't sure what it does."

Next, I read the questions we wrote the previous day, in addition to "How do we hear?," which included:

  • What does the eardrum do?
  • Why can't we feel the eardrum?
  • What other parts of the ear are there?

Finally, I share the objective and set the purpose for today's lesson.

Today we will plan and conduct an investigation of how we hear.  We will write what we learn in our science journals!

Note: We planned the investigation in the previous lesson closing (we had extra time!).  Here's the investigation plan, on chart paper.  And here is a peek into the lesson introduction!

Exploration ~ the wave crest

20 minutes

There are a few main suggestions that students will make about how to investigate hearing: observing our ears, a video, searching on the internet, and reading a book. You can truly complete these in any order you prefer, or complete only the portions that your students suggested.  I ask students to come to the perimeter of the rug so that we are all facing one another.  This helps us conduct a conversation and build off of one another's ideas.

Today we will plan an investigation.  That means, we need to think about how we can study hearing.  What ways do we find and learn information?

Here, I have students turn-and-talk with a partner to share their ideas.  This gives all students the opportunity to engage with the question, use science vocabulary, and get their thoughts in order.  It also allows them to practice speaking and listening skills, like presenting an idea and agreeing or disagreeing with peers.  Then, I call on students to share their ideas.  I make a list of the ideas on chart paper.

After each idea, I ask a follow-up question that moves students towards the evaluation aspect of this Science and Engineering Practice, "Evaluate different ways of observing and/or measuring a phenomenon to determine which way can answer a question."

Alex suggested that we watch a video to learn about how we hear.  Will this help answer our question?  Will watching a video help better or not as well as observing each others' ears?

Next, after we have our ways of answering the question, we are moving into conducting the investigation and also Science Practice #8 Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information.

Friends, as the first part of our investigation, we will observe each other's ears.  What tools will best help us with this?  Where should we record our observations?  How could we show our observations?

By asking these questions, students are planning how to record.  I use Science Journals, or marbled composition notebooks, throughout the year.  If your students do not have Science Journals, you could offer them a blank booklet or a digital tool that has drawing and writing capabilities.

Check out this video, which shows children using hand lenses and drawing each other's ears in their Science Journals!  I circulated and checked in to see what students observed.

Here are some student work samples:

  • Student #1 "There are blood vessels (muscles) in Payton's ear.  There are veins in Payton's ear..."
  • Student #2
  • Student #3
  • Student #4  This student wrote her schema too.  "We can hear because there is something called the eardrum that helps you hear..."

Next, I play a transition song.  Before playing the song, I ask students to please bring their journals and pencils to the rug with them.  

The second step in our investigation is to watch a video.  We want to answer the question, "How do we hear?"  I have two video clips, but I'm not sure which will help us.  Let's watch a bit of both, and then you can decide which will best help us answer our questions.

Here are the competing videos!  I play about 30-40 seconds of each.  Then, we evaluate them.  The first one is definitely geared towards children and is much easier to understand.  The second has all kinds of vocabulary we don't know, and it a bit confusing.  It should be clear as a bell to your students that video #1 is the way to go!

Students turn-and-talk to evaluate here.  And here's how my students responded:

While we watch Video #1, I pause it periodically to help me monitor students' comprehension and also give them a chance to record in their notebooks.  I draw a diagram in parts on the Elmo and we retell each step.  (Here is the version one of my student's drew, and another student's work with some video notes.)  

Here are some of the key points from the video:

  • The outer ear is the part you see and the ear canal.
  • Sound waves vibrate the ear drum.  (Here is also a great question for the W section: What is a sound wave?)
  • 3 little bones in your ear!
  • Cochlea (looks like a snail) with moving hairs, sends signals to the brain so you know what you hear.

I add a diagram of the ear to the "S" or science learning section of the KLEWS chart here.  My students decided they would like a diagram, so the following day I give them a basic ear diagram to glue into their journals.

Time did not permit me to also complete the book and website search in this lesson. However, if your students want to research the ear further, here are some suggestions.  Again, have students evaluate multiple sources and pick which one if a good fit for first graders wanting to answer the question, "How do we hear?"


  • Why do Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears by Verna Aardema
  • The Ear Book by Al Perkins
  • Ears Are for Hearing by Paul Showers
  • How Does the Ear Hear? or Now Hear This by Melissa Stewart

(The Showers or Stewart books will clearly be the winners!)



5 minutes

It is important that students connect themselves to the behaviors and practices of scientists.  In my introduction to science unit in September, my class created an anchor chart, "What does a scientist do?"  This is a chart I leave up throughout the year for students to refer back to.  Today, I ask them to reflect on our lesson.

Friends, how were we scientists today?  (We planned and conducted an investigation, made observations, and recorded new learning.)

In the next lesson, I know that I want students to design an investigation of sound waves.  I pull them back to the question we wrote during the video.

Friends, today we we watched the video, we were confused by sound waves. Tomorrow, we will plan an investigation that will help us understand what makes a sound and to answer our question.