Sound Waves and Ocean Waves

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SWBAT describe how energy is transferred by waves.

Big Idea

For social animals such as whales, the use of sound is extremely important for communicating with others and sensing their environment in the absence of light. But how does sound travel under water?


5 minutes

I start the lesson by playing just the audio track (not displaying any video) of the Whales Singing as students enter the room. Many students will comment as they enter, trying to figure out where the sound originates, making comments about feeling like they are at the beach, etc. This is exactly what I want them to do, because it encourages all of them to focus on sound, which is what we will be learning about today.

After students have settled and have had a few minutes to listen to the whale songs, I ask students which of their 5 senses they were encouraged to use as they entered the room. I explain that even though we have studying the ocean, today we will be talking about sound. Not only is sound a very important part of an ocean animal's ability to survive, sound also has something very important in common with the ocean. (They both travel in waves! ...But I don't mention this just yet, because I want them to make that connection later.)

Next, I pass out the KWL and ask students to list all of the things they know (or think they know) about sound. After providing 3-4 minutes to write, I have them construct questions they have about sound as well as what is has to do with the ocean.


30 minutes

I have the students watch the short video, Giants of the Depths, provided by PBS Media. As they watch, I encourage them jot down at least three different pieces of information on the back of their KWL that interests them. Because the ocean is usually a very engaging topic with this age, I want them to feel free to take interest in the content, and therefore allow them to take notes on anything they find of interest.  However, because we will be trying to learn more about sound waves, I also ask them to jot down ideas that make connections between the ocean and sound.

After viewing the video, I perform a quick Whip Around and have each student list one thing that interested them, having students raise their hand if they wrote that down as well. This honors students' interests and allows every student to participate without pressure or embarrassment of answering a question incorrectly.

After hearing everyone's response, I ask volunteers to explain what they heard from the video that had to do with sound. Most will remember the section of the video when Jonathan discusses how whales use clicking sounds to communicate with one another, as well as to replace their limited sense of sight in the deep, dark water.


10 minutes

Next, I pass out the Sound Activity* and we work through each section together in the following order:

1. Reading the background section (page 3), referring to the vocabulary list on page 2 as needed.

2. Completing the Slinky simulation activity. (page 3)

3. Responding (in writing) and then discussing the reflection questions. (page 4)

4. Completing the What Is a Wave? interactive. (page 5)

5. Choral reading and discussing the Sound vs. Light in the Sea text. (page 5)

*Activity courtesy of Blue World TV


10 minutes

As a way to learn more about how - and at what speed - sound travels, I have the students work in pairs to complete the math activities on pages 6-7 of the Sound Activity Lab. This portion of the activity has students calculating the distance from an object with echolation, as well as the speed of sound under water at given time intervals. It provides a great way to break down the speed of sound in a way that is more manageable for students to understand.


5 minutes

As a final assessment of my students' understanding, I have them return to the KWL chart and list all of the things they have learned about sound, placing focus on the relationship between sound and the water.

I remind them to consider all of the activities we have completed today, including the video, the Slinky demonstration, the readings and the class discussions. Not only do I want to see how many of my students understand how sound is transmitted, but I am also hoping they relate the ideas of waves to both sound and the ocean, they identify echolation as an adaptation for many ocean animals, and they can describe how sound moves through solids, liquids, and gases.


Sound Waves and Ocean Waves: Supplementary Materials