Sound...explore with your class
Ideas for how to explore sound with your class and explain it in a way they will understand.
two children using a tin can phone
The second part of this topic guide leads on from the tricky scientific concepts that we explained in part one (you can revise them here). Now you're clear on what the children need to know and have the background science under your belt, you're ready to apply these ideas for teaching sound to your class!
To teach a tricky topic, such as sound, we recommend making it exploratory and practical where you can so that your pupils can investigate and experience what happens when sounds are made.
1. Make some noise!
Children’s learning about sound is all about hands-on experimentation, making observations and comparisons. They should begin by investigating how sounds are made by trying out a variety of musical instruments (e.g., drums, stringed instruments, recorders, a piano) and observing how when they strike, pluck, strum, blow etc. something is made to vibrate.
It is also valuable to include some everyday objects, such as pots and pans, boxes, elastic bands etc., to avoid sound being connected only with instruments. From the start, they should identify similarities and differences in the sounds they hear and think about why they occur, including considering the properties of the materials.
Children should also be given the opportunity to consider the great variety of sounds they hear in the world around them. Hidden depths and Pink and knobbly are excellent Zoom In, Zoom Out activities for sparking a discussion about the differences in how humans hear sounds compared to other animals. The sound of silence is a brilliant What’s Going On video to show why animals might need to be louder or quieter and how they achieve it. Lyre liar is a fun video that demonstrates the strange sounds an animal can make and What’s that sound? requires the children to really think carefully about how sounds are made.
2. How do we hear sounds?
To help children develop their understanding of how sound vibrations travel through a medium to our ears, the tried and tested string telephone remains an effective way to demonstrate this. Rice and rhythm is a useful What’s Going On video to demonstrate the physical action of the vibrations when a drum is struck. A similar demonstration can be done by covering a bowl tightly with cling film, placing rice on top and making different sounds near it (including balancing it on top of a stereo speaker) and watching the rice move as the film vibrates.
Martian waves is another What’s Going On activity that uses a less familiar context for helping explain how soundwaves travel. Protect your ears is a sound proofing problem solver that will help children to think about how to prevent the sound waves from entering their ears. It is also a good way of investigating the properties and uses of different materials.
3. High or low, quiet or loud?
Investigating how to change the volume and pitch of a sound is an excellent way to develop children’s scientific skills, such as:
setting up simple comparative tests
using their results to draw conclusions and make further predictions.
Children can be given a range of objects and instruments to investigate this with, and it is a great opportunity to let them lead their learning. To provide an idea to start them off, the What’s Going On video Bottle orchestra is a nice simple way to demonstrate how making changes to an object changes the pitch of the sound.
Investigating sound is also a perfect opportunity to work in a cross-curricular way. Challenge the children to design and build their own instrument, perhaps including a way of changing the volume or pitch of the sounds it makes.
4. Use a concept cartoon
A concept cartoon is a great way to engage your class and stimulate discussion of their ideas. You can use it at any time, but it is particularly useful for finding out what children know at the beginning of a topic or assessing their understanding near the end.
(Taken from Science Concept Cartoons® Set 1 Revised Edition (2014) and Science Concept Cartoons® Set 2 (2015). © Millgate House Education Ltd www.millgatehouse.co.uk)
This concept cartoon presents a range of viewpoints about how sound travels, including common misconceptions and the scientifically correct response. Get your pupils to consider what they think about the different opinions. It will help them to justify their own ideas and clarify their scientific thinking.
You can even design your own concept cartoons based on the needs of your children or to assess a particular piece of understanding. Or why not let your children have a go at creating their own?
We'd love to know how these ideas worked for you. You can tell us on Twitter, join our Facebook Staffroom Group or send us an email!
Image credit: Two children using a tin can phone (two empty tin cans connected by a string) Wes PeckFollow via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0