In this unit, students investigate the science of sound. Students construct physical devices to feel the vibrations that allow us to communicate across distances. Students also use digital devices to visualize the characteristics of different sound waves that cause us to hear different things.
In this lesson, students learn about the connection between sounds and vibration. In the activity, Paper Cup Telephone, students make telephones using cups and string. Students then modify the design of their telephones using different types of supplies to see if they can improve the sound quality.
Students will experiment with different materials for their paper cup telephones. They will need more paper clips and additional items, such as construction paper, different sized cups, yarn, ribbon, or dental floss.
Each student will first make half of a paper cup telephone. Then, students will pair up to complete their telephones. Homeschool students will need a partner for the activity.
Students will also have the chance to come up with their own experiments with the telephone. The list below shows materials they could use. You can get more materials if you'd like.
more paper cups, including larger and smaller cups
construction paper that could be used to make a cup larger
ribbon, yarn, dental floss, or other kinds of string
more of the same string you used before
more paper clips
Each student needs a piece of string that is 6 feet in length. Read our Teacher Tips for an easy way to prepare several strings all at once using a yardstick.
Display Engineering Materials
Your students will have the chance to come up with their own experiments with the phone. But before students attempt to modify and improve the design of their telephones, they need to know which materials are available to them. During Step 15 of the experiment, we suggest you show students which of these will be available.
In this lesson, students explore the role that air plays in enabling a sound vibration to travel. In the activity, Act Out a Sound, students do two short activities that explore sound vibrations. Students experiment with sound to understand how it moves through the air and then consider what would happen in an environment like space where there is no air.
For the first activity, we suggest students work in pairs. Homeschool students will need a partner. For the second activity, you need a minimum of four people (and a maximum of six people) who will sit in a line, side by side. So make sure you have the people and the chairs you need.
Divide Your Supplies
The first activity requires balloons and binder clips. The second activity requires the printouts and some tape. You may want to separate these supplies into two piles for easy classroom distribution.
In this lesson, students discover that sound is a wave. In the activity, Making Waves, students draw the waves that different sounds make using a virtual oscilloscope, a machine that shows images of sound waves. Then they vibrate a rope to make waves that look like the ones made by the oscilloscope.
For the rope activity, you’ll need a smooth, hard floor where you can stretch out a rope that’s 12 to 15 feet long. Students can take turns making waves. We suggest having at least one rope for each group of 8 students.
Prepare the Rope or Clothesline
For each group of students, you’ll need a flexible rope or clothesline measuring 12 to 15 feet in length.
Virtual Oscilloscope Extension (Optional)
In our Extensions section, we include a link to an online oscilloscope that you can use to extend your exploration of the patterns made by sound. Using this tool, students can experiment with different sounds and see the patterns that the waves make.
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