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Hidden depths

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Activity overview

15 mins
Ages 7 – 9

Science topics:


Take a much closer look at this familiar object. Can your class use their reasoning skills to work out what it is?

Run the activity

You will be zooming in and out of the image above – starting very close and stepping back slowly.

1. Start by asking everyone:

  • What do they think the image is and why?
  • What does the image remind them of and why?

2. Every time you zoom out, ask the class:

  • Can they describe the colours, shapes and textures?
  • What do they think the image is now – have they changed their minds?

Background science

Sound waves travel through the air to our ear drum causing it to vibrate. These vibrations are then transmitted to tiny bones and fluid in our inner ear.  The movement of this fluid stimulates nerve endings which carry messages to our brains that are interpreted as sound.

The outer part of the ear that we can see (the pinna) is shaped as it is in order to funnel the vibrations in the air towards our ear drum and inner ear.  However, the pinna is not as large as in many other animals nor can our ears move independently.  This means that we are not as good at hearing sound as some other animals and when we are trying to locate the direction of a sound we need to turn our whole heads to help our ears to ‘catch’ the sound waves.

Take it further

Children could research how the human ear works. They could watch this BBC video which will help them understand. They could use dataloggers to investigate when the classroom is quietest. Children could program the device to log the noise level over 24 hours and show this as a line graph. When was it loudest and quietest? Can they explain their findings? 

The children may like to compare the human ear with that of a cat (see Explorify 'Pink and knobbly').  They may also like to watch this Explorify ‘What’s Going On?’ activity which shows how a drum skin vibrates as it is played.

Image credits:

Normal Tympanic Membrane by Michael Hawke MD via HawkeLibrary.com, CC BY-NC 3.0;

Ashley Kelly for Wellcome Trust, CC0;

Ear, auricle and earlobe of a woman in close-up © Milo the eye via Shutterstock;

Local Call by Wes PeckFollow via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0