Sound Devices ~ Building and Testing

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SWBAT construct and test 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, and NGSS.
  • 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:


In the previous lesson, we investigated how pipes can help sound travel over a distance.  Then, students planned a device to communicate sound.

In this lesson, we build and test our sound devices.  Part of the Engineering Design Process includes improving the design, then retesting.  I do not pre-teach improving design, however, I do ask while circulating about how students could improve their design.  I  also have students with design changes share in the lesson closing.


5 minutes

In today's warm-up, we review the Engineering Design Process.  I have a clothespin on the anchor chart, showing our location after yesterday: Draw a Plan.

Friends, yesterday we designed a plan for a device that would communicate sound over a distance.  What is the next step in the Engineering Design Process?  (Create/Build)  Tell me in your own words, what does that mean we will do today?  And after we build our design, what will we need to do?  (Test)  How will we test our designs?

By having students discuss the process, I want them to think through what actions they will be taking.  While they are working, teachers can provide each pair with a copy of the Engineering Design Process and a clothespin to track their progress.  This keeps them accountable and help them manage their time.  

I also invite our assistant principal to view the final products, since he is in charge of buses!  My students love sharing with Mr. T!

Exploration ~ the wave crest

20 minutes

I expect build-time to be loud and busy.  Students are stationed on the floor or at desk groupings around the room.

The previous day, we placed all materials in the center of our rug and divided them into labeled bags for each day.  In this way, today's groups are ready to build right away.  In the past, I have also had a central materials station (I put all materials together in one location to make prep and clean-up easier), and students collect materials as they build.  But, this year we did not have quite enough funnels, so they needed to be divided fairly by me!

During partner working and building time, I circulate and check-in with questions like:

  • How is the building process going for you?
  • Are you having any problems?  (I don't offer solutions, though, rather I follow-up with, "How are you thinking about solving that problem?)
  • Are you using any materials that were not on your plan?
  • Are you making any changes to your design plan?  Have you recorded them?

Here are some pictures of groups checking their plans and building around the room:

Also, about halfway through the building time, I ask students to freeze with a rhyme like, "Mac and cheese, now we freeze."  I ask students to put their fist against their chest and make either a thumbs-up or thumbs-sideways sign as I pose these self-assessment statements:

  • My partner and I are working well together.
  • We have tested our design.
  • We are discussing changes and improvements. 
  • We are recording any changes we made.

Then, I say that if students have not gotten to the testing and improvement process, they should be getting there shortly.  Check-ins help students learn to manage their time, and they also serve to refocus children when necessary.


5 minutes

For the closing, students demonstrate and share their devices.  When students are sharing, I ask questions like, "How did you choose your materials?  How does your device work?  How does sound travel through you device?"

My focus during sharing time is for students to articulate how they tested and improved their designs, as well as how they recorded their design improvements.

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.

I set up two chairs facing in the same direction (like seats on a bus) and has students on the perimeter of the rug while groups shared.

Sound device #1 Sound device #2 Sound device #3

After building such cool products, your students may be wondering how a group can all take the products home.  I told students they could either 1) leave all products with me and I would reuse the materials next year, or 2) play rock-paper-scissors within their group and the winner could take home the product.  Rock-paper-scissors it was!