What makes sound?

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SWBAT plan and conduct an investigation of sound.

Big Idea

Sounds waves, vibrations, huh? Let's investigate what these vibrations can really do. Sending good vibes your way!

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 move 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 learned how sound goes through the parts of the ear to create a signal to our brains.  Although understanding how the ear works is not part of the standard per se, I think this is incredibly important background information.  Students do not need to come away memorizing parts of the ear, but rather, should have a general understanding of how sound waves travel to the brain.  

Now that we understand how we hear sounds, we will begin planning and conducting investigations of sound to prove that sounds have vibrations and vibrations make sounds.

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:



5 minutes

In the previous lesson, we heard about sound waves in our video about how the ear works.  We asked the question, "What is a sound wave?" and recorded it in the "W" section of the KLEWS chart.

I begin today by connecting to the previous lesson.

Turn-and-talk with a partner to retell them one key detail that you learned yesterday about how we hear.

Turn-and-talk allows all children to answer the question, instead of just the three or four that I call on.  It also gives students all a chance to relive the prior lesson and reconnect with it.  By having a conversation, all students become accountable for the learning from the prior day.  

While students share, I listen in and join the conversation!  Here, the first friend knew exactly what he wanted to share, and the second friend froze.  I helped him along with some guided questions and prompting.

After students talk, I call on a few to share their key details with the whole group.

Then, I set the purpose for today's lesson.

Yesterday, we asked the question, "What is a sound wave?"  That made we wonder, "What makes sound?"  Today we will conduct an investigation about sound as we try to answer that question.

Exploration ~ the wave crest

15 minutes

Today's exploration of sound waves and vibrations begins with students recording observations at sound stations.  I attended a webinar through the National Science Teachers Association, where the teacher structured her lesson this way.  This webinar is archived for NSTA members on the website, and it was hosted on October 22, 2014 by Carla Zembal-Saul, Mary Starr and Kathy Renfrew.  The model teacher made the instructional decision to have each student go to only 1 station.  Then, when students came back together to discuss their observations, she moved their conversation towards planning a second round of the investigation where they would rotate through all of the stations.  The second set of observations also included using sound to make objects move.  I really like the way she moved children to design the investigation, and I do the same here!

I have my classroom arranged in table groups of 5 sets of 4-6 children, so today I will have a bin of materials at each table group.  Here is what you will find in the bins:

  • Bin #1 drums
  • Bin #2 Tuning forks
  • Bin #3 Stretched strings (a classic tissue box guitar)
  • Bin #4 Bells
  • Bin #5 Triangles
  • If you have more students, two groups can use the same materials or you can add bins of materials like shakers, cymbals, or tambourines.  See what your music teacher can spare for a day or two!

Here's what the classroom management at tables looks like during the investigation.

First, I explain the task to students.  

Today, you will observe and record sounds.  You will record your findings on this recording sheet.  Read at the top with me, "What makes sound?" and "What is a sound wave?"  You will have approximately 5-7 minutes today to explore the objects at your table and record what makes (or causes) their sounds.  Think: How will you record to show the sound?

Next, I release students to their desks at the "stations."  Students play for the first 2-3 minutes, which is just fine!  One reason I use a recording worksheet today instead of our science journals is because I want students to be accountable for producing some recording of their observation.  By having a paper to turn in, I expect a bit more attention will be paid to the recording.  Here I check-in with tables: Group check-in #1 and Group check-in #2.

Note: after about 5 minutes, I do an all-call response to have students freeze.  For example, the teacher says "Mac and cheese" and students say "Now we freeze."  There are tons of enjoyable ways to get students' attention!  I also like this next one, which makes students put things down, "Open, shut them, open, shut them, give a great big clap.  Open, shut them, open, shut them, put them in your lap."  Here, students are opening and shutting their hands, which requires them to put down the science materials.

Once I get their attention, I focus them on their recording sheet.

Friends, take a moment to look at your recording sheet and the work of the other students in your group.  Have you recorded what makes sound?  Is there someone in your group who needs help figuring out how to record?  Please help each other now and finish your recording.

As I circulate, I am interested to see how students choose to record.  Here is an evaluation of student work telling what the work shows me about students' understandings of the standards, the principles of sound, and how to record sound and/or vibrations with images.

After a few minutes of recording time, I play a transition song.  During the song, students clean up their materials and bring their worksheets to the rug for our closing conversation. 


10 minutes

I adjusted times in this lesson to allow additional time for the closing conversation.  I ask students to share with a partner who was not in their group, "What makes sound?"  This turn-and-talk time is a rehearsal for sharing their thoughts aloud.  I call on a number of students to share.  I am expecting students to say things like:

  • movements make sound
  • vibrations (clarify if the student means the sound caused the vibrations or the vibrations cause the sound)
  • shaking

On the top half of this closing conversation chart, I recorded student responses.  In the beginning of the conversation below, we also clarify whether the drum causes the sound or whether hitting the drum/vibration causes the sound.

I want to move students towards investigating all of the materials.  So, I ask, "Did everyone's group have ______ (ex. vibrating materials)?  Did anyone's group not have ______?"  I also ask questions like, "Are there any sounds that do not _____ (ex. vibrate)?"  

Finally, I move students towards designing an investigation with this question, "How can we investigate whether all of the sounds caused vibrations?  How can we investigate if the vibrations cause the sound?  Does the sound cause the vibrations or the vibrations cause the sound?"  Students turn and talk about this and their ideas.  

Then I ask, "How can we investigate this question?"  Right away, one student says we need to go to all the stations.  When I ask why, she elaborated that if the same thing happens, we'll be "more right."  We also discussed how students would record vibrations and sound waves.  They didn't like my suggestion for vibrations-- they had other ideas!

This conversation leads directly into the subsequent lesson, where students conduct their investigation of vibrations.