Communicating with Light and Sound: Fire!

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SWBAT retell key details about how we communicate with light and sound.

Big Idea

Sound the alarm! Fire alarms and fire trucks are perfect examples of communicating with light and sound. Suit up and come along!

Instructional Notes

This unit is broken down into two main parts: sound and light.  Today we combine both ideas, while focusing on the engineering task ahead.  The culminating NGSS standard for this unit is:

  • 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.

Today, I introduce students to the engineering principles behind why fire alarms and fire engines use both light and sound to communicate.  I reintroduce the Engineering Design Process (we have used it in prior units) as we go.

First, we will define the problem.  Next, we will look at how firefighters long ago sounded alarms and built alarms on trucks.  Then, we will see how the technology has improved.

In this lesson, students will be fulfilling Science & Engineering Practice #8 Obtaining and Communicating Information.


5 minutes

Today we move to being engineers.  I remind students of our previous work with engineers by activating the background knowledge we have built this year.

What does an engineer do?  (Uses science to solve problems.)  

Then, I review the Engineering Design Process, pointing to each idea on the cycle as I describe it.

Let's look at the engineering process.  First, engineers ask a question, "How can we fix this problem?"  Next, they imagine all of the possibilities, even if some are kinda crazy.  Then, they pick the best idea and draw a plan.  The plan shows the materials and what the final product will look like.  After planning, they build, test, and improve the products.

If you have not yet encountered the Engineering Design Process, check out this lesson, where I introduce it to my class.  There is a great NASA video that will help! 

Exploration ~ the wave crest

20 minutes

We begin where engineers begin, with a problem and question.

Long ago, there was a problem in cities.  The problem was fires, which were hard to put out and spread from one house to another pretty easily.  Cities established fire departments and began first pulling water on carts with horses.  Then, once trucks were invented, firefighters used fire trucks to bring water to the fire.  There were other problems too.  The problems were: how could fire trucks warn people to get off of the road and let them through.  And, how could people in the buildings around the one on fire get out safely?  

These problems were with communication, getting a message from one person to another.  Engineers went to work!

Next, I tell students that as we are reading a Scholastic News article about Firefighters Long Ago and Today, they should be looking and listening for clues about how the firefighters communicate.  In the article, we see firefighters communicating with one another (long ago with horns, and now with walkie talkies).  During reading, we are making connections between pieces of information from long ago to today, which meets Common Core ELA standard RI 1.3.  Students can read along in laminated copies of the magazine, or students can read along with the digital version.

Then, we view pictures online of old firetrucks, where students see bells, spotlights, and lanterns.  All of these communication devices helped tell people to get out of the road and let the firetruck through.  We look at new firetrucks too.  Here's a peek into the lesson:

After viewing just a minute or so of this video clip showing firetrucks responding to an emergency, I ask students, "How do firefighters today use light and sound to communicate to drivers?"

Next, I want students to think of the second communication issue that we need to stay safe.  If there is a fire, how can we tell people to get out safely?  Fire alarms!  Why do fire alarms use light and sound?  Who might only see the lights?  Who might only see the sounds?  How does communicating with light and sound make us even more safe?

I show a video clip of a fire drill too.


5 minutes

In conclusion, we will summarize the connections between how engineers help us by improving the fire truck and fire alarms.

Let's come back to the Engineering Design Process.  What question did engineers have?  (How can we keep people safe?)  What was the first way that engineers solved the problem long ago?  Turn-and-talk with a friend to share your thinking.

I use the turn-and-talk strategy here as a way for students to restate key details from the lesson.  This gives students the opportunity to meet the objective-- describing the communication device.

How did engineers improve upon the first alarms?  Turn-and-talk with a friend to share your thinking.

How do light and sound communications keep us safe?  

Finally, if time remains, students may write or draw to show the connection between fire alarms long ago and today.  Some of my students took more general notes from the article.  If reteaching this next year, I would have them glue in the second question above as a journal question or model creating a T-chart specifically about firefighter communication.

Student journal #1 and #2 share key details like: long ago their "voices were loud" and today they use "walkie talkies".  Students were able to work with partners or independently to revisit the article to take notes.  Student journals at the early elementary age can vary quite a bit from extensive with sophisticated organization (notes and connections) to note-taking with pictures.  The purpose of notes is to jog the writer's memory, not to write in complete sentences.  Thus, pictures can certainly be an effective way to take notes!