Communication Devices ~ Planning

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SWBAT plan a tool to communicate over a distance utilizing light and/or sound.

Big Idea

There's a light at the end of the tunnel! Help your students brainstorm and plan devices that communicate over a distance using light and/or sound.

Instructional Notes

This unit is broken down into two main parts: sound and light.  We have investigated, "How do we communicate with sound?" and "How do we communicate with light?"  Now, students will plan their culminating engineering design product. 

  • 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.


I divide the culminating event over two days.  On Day 1, we define the problem, brainstorm, and make an initial plan.  On Day 2, we work in groups to pick the best idea and revise it further.  We will not be building the devices, rather, we will present our ideas on poster paper to one another.

It was important to me to choose a problem that students are familiar with; namely, a problem at school!  One problem at my school is lining up for recess.  We have multiple classes using the area at once, and teachers line up at different times.  Plus, sometimes I forget my whistle.  And, our whistles all sound alike!  This leads to students not lining up right away, which in turn causes us to lose time in our math block.  Can students design a better device for communicating to students in different classes that it is time to line up?


5 minutes

In today's warm-up, I begin by displaying and reviewing the Engineering Design Process Graphic that we have used in previous units.  

Friends, what does an engineer do?  (Solves problems.)  Let's review the steps in the Design Process together.

Next, I identify the problem and complete step one: ask a question.

We have been learning how to communicate with sound and light.  We actually have a communication problem almost daily.  We always have at least one friend who does not line up after recess!  That friend always says, "I didn't hear the whistle!"  And sometimes, I even forget our whistle and just have to scream.  But with so many children playing, sometimes it is hard to hear.  Make a connection sign to me if you agree.

A connection sign is a hand gesture where students make a fist and then stick out their pinky and thumb.  They move their hand back and forth so that they point to themselves and then the speaker.  I use connection signs when a child agrees or has the same/similar thinking to someone else.

Engineers, can we design a better device using light, sound, or both to communicate that it is time to line up?  

Lesson Planning Note

Exploration ~ the wave crest

20 minutes

Next, I reference students to the subsequent step in the Engineering Design Process.  

Engineers, the next step says to imagine the possibilities.  Remember that some ideas may seem a little crazy at first, right?  I also want you to think about how we could know which class needs to line up.  Could there be different light or sounds for different classes? Turn-and-talk with a friend about what you are thinking so far.  

Turn-and-talk is a great way to let students process the question and start sharing ideas.  First graders are often super excited about their ideas, and without the opportunity to talk with a friend, they are probably just about to explode!  Turn-and-talk also helps students who are unsure start listening to other ideas and begin making their own ideas.  Sometimes you just need a push in the right direction from a friend!  

After students talk, I ask for a few friends to share their ideas with the whole group.  I respond by asking them to elaborate, "How will we know which class?"

The Engineering Design Process includes planning.  It is really important to give adequate time and importance to the planning process.  To begin today, each student will develop their own individual idea by drawing a plan that explains their device.  Students will glue in the device plans worksheet, which includes a rubric.  Rubrics are great ways for students to keep on track and make sure they have completed all components of a project.  I always read the rubric before students go to their seats, so that they know the expectations and can self-monitor themselves.

I provided two versions of the plan.  One includes sentence starters for students who need writing support or more explicit instructions.

Early finishers may partner read or independently read a book about light or sound from our class collection.

When reviewing student work during the lesson and afterwards, I noticed some trends.  First, many students stuck to the devices we used in class, like funnels and flashlights.  Second, many students were recalling devices we'd explored in previous lessons, like Morse code and spotlights, as well as flashing lights.  One student even chose a reflective light with a mirror, which he saw on a Magic School Bus video about light and rainbows.  I also saw some patterns in what would make the plans better, like descriptions and charts listing the different signals for different classes.  Check out some of our work:

Student Plan #1

Student Plan #2

Student Plan #3

Student Plan #4

Student Plan #5

Student Plan #6

Student Plan #7

Student Plan #8


5 minutes

For the closing, students will reflect on the planning process.  

What went well when you were planning today?

What didn't go so well?  Did anyone come across a problem?

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

We also discuss which planning process we preferred in the unit, planning as a group for sound devices or planning individually today.

Next, I show the plans on the screen.  I show all student plans, and while showing them, as a class we do some peer review and see how well the student used the rubric to make sure they included all elements.  Students thus see what other friends did well (what they could mimic) and what wasn't so great (what they need to clarify or revise the following day).  Peer reflection gives students a focus and specific ideas about how they can improve their own work. 

Note: This year, our reflection took a bit longer than I was intending, so I chose to push the peer review to the warm-up on the subsequent day.