Sound Devices ~ Planning

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SWBAT plan a tool to transmit sound.

Big Idea

Looking for sound advice? Help your students build devices that communicate sound over a distance!

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.

Students have now discovered the properties of sound waves.  It's time to move towards 1-PS4-4. To develop an understanding of this skill, we are learning how we communicate with sound.

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:


Today, we will investigate how pipes can help sound travel over a distance.  Then, students will be given a variety of materials to design a device to communicate sound.  

I will divide this lesson over two days.  On day 1, we research different pipe apparatus and plan our design.  On Day 2, we will actually build and test our sound devices.


5 minutes

In today's warm-up, I use the KLEWS chart to connect to the essential question and previous lesson. 

Let's read our essential question together, "How do we communicate with sound?"  Yesterday, we learned that megaphones help us focus sound waves in a particular direction so that the sound travels farther.  Today we'll start working on the word "communicate" and start thinking about how we communicate with sound.

Then, I introduce students to pipes as a way to communicate sound over long distances.  

Today we will continue investigating ways that sound can travel across distances.  One way is through a pipe.

Next, I tell students that today we are engineers.  I refer them to the Engineering Design Process Graphic that we have used in previous units.  

Friends, what does an engineer do?  (Solves problems.)  Right.  Well, some teachers have had a problem where it is too loud in the classroom when students are reading to themselves.  Check out this cool phone that teachers designed!

I have a bunch of these (a summer DIY project!) in my classroom.  There are also pre-made versions available.  A lot of teachers use these in fluency centers.  I pass one to each student and give them time to use the phones.  They quickly learn why the phones are called "Whisper Phones," as even a normal volume voice will hurt your ears!

Exploration ~ the wave crest

20 minutes

Next, I describe the problem that they will need to solve today.

Engineers, we have a problem and I need your help to solve it.  Bus drivers often complain about how noisy the bus is!  But, you want to talk to your friends, and sometimes your friends are a few seats away.  How can we design a device to communicate a few seats away on the bus, without having to yell?

Next, I show them a few options of similar devices already on the market.  I begin by showing them this video clip about a toy with a long pipe.

Then, I ask if children have used sound pipes, or talk tubes, at local playgrounds.  I show an image or two from a marketing website of talk tubes.

Students turn-and-talk to have the conversation, "How do tubes help us communicate over a distance?"  Turn-and-talk is a great way to let students process the question and rehearse their responses.  I find that it leads to many more raised hands during sharing time.  After students talk, I ask for a few friends to share their ideas with the whole group.

The Engineering Design Process includes planning.  It is really important to give adequate time and importance to the planning process.  Engineers often work in teams, and so I prefer to have students collaborate when planning.  Working with a partner helps students solve design problems and also practice speaking and listening skills.  Today's task is to draw a plan and label the materials they will use for construction of the device.  Generally, groups of 2 or 3 are ideal.  More than 3, and all students may not have their ideas incorporated.

I model for students how to include everyone's ideas.  I also model language that justifies my material choices as well.  To show this, I invite a student to mock partner with me in a setting called "the fishbowl."  This is a strategy where the teacher or models sit in the middle of the rug (like the fish) and other students sit on the perimeter (like they are looking into the bowl).

Teacher: Morgan, will you be my partner?  Thanks.  May I please share my idea first?  Thanks.  I am thinking maybe we could use these cardboard paper towel tubes to make a long tube.  See how they are tubes?  The sound will travel right through the hole in the middle.  But, how would we put them together? 

Student: Maybe tape.  But I think we should use this tube instead because it is already long.

Teacher: Good idea.  How will sound travel through that tube?  Okay.

It's important to model a calm conversation, because students will be excited to design.  We need to show them how to calmly work through the planning process together.

Now, I show students the materials available to build the devices and tell them that they will be working with a partner of their choice.  By choosing partners, students often pick someone who the work well with.  At the beginning of this unit, I sent home a letter requesting supplies from parents.  The plastic tubing and funnels can be bought at local hardware stores.  This project can also be constructed using only paper towel and toilet paper rolls, plus cardstock to make the funnel.

I tell students that they will be recording in their Science Journal with a diagram of their device.  I draw a model using the ideas that my partner and I had when thinking aloud together.  I show how to label the materials and write a sentence at the bottom that tells more.  My students are trained to use rubrics to monitor their work.  Here is the sound device rubric I have them glue into their Science Journals.  Rubrics help them make sure they have completed all parts of the assignment.

Here are some sample plans, after this lesson.  Note: see the reflection below about how this ended up becoming a two-day planning lesson.  


5 minutes

For the closing, students will reflect on the planning process.  I first ask about the planning process.  This helps students get better at working together and improves group work in future lessons.   It also lets them know that I value improving our classroom environment.

What went well when you were planning today?

What didn't go so well?  Did anyone find that your group didn't work so well?

We reflect as a group about how we could help the groups that had trouble.

Next, I have selected groups share their design.  While students were planning, I was circulating and looking for innovative designs, good diagrams, and students who wrote more about their design.  These are exemplars that I want all students to mimic.

Part of the Common Core ELA standards include speaking and listening.  The principles of speaking are also incorporated within the NGSS Science and Engineering Practice #8, which includes orally presenting scientific information and design ideas.  The class discussion, or Science Circle, meets these standards!