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The Science of Sounds

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Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 4.48.09 PMHow does the ear collect sound? Does the shape of the ear matter for hearing? Can you really hear someone talking through two tin cans connected by a string? There are countless questions that can be investigated by studying the science of sound. According to the Next Generation Science Standards, first and fourth grade students are expected to demonstrate an understanding of sound and its properties. In the age of video chatting and modern technology, students might find it difficult to envision the communication channels of long ago such as speaking tubes or the old tin can and string telephone (see photo below). Reinventing these methods of communication is a fun opportunity to introduce how sound travels. And since sound waves can’t be seen by the naked eye, investigations and videos are valuable resources to support students’ understanding of how sound moves from one place to another.

Use these videos from PBSLearningMedia and KQED QUEST to learn more about the science of sounds.

This video segment begins with a demonstration of how a sound is made and then shows how a sound wave is transmitted to the brain through the parts of the ear. Discover why loud sounds can be permanently harmful to your ears and how the cochlea is involved in helping you maintain your balance.

Understanding Vibration and Pitch
This video segment presents a variety of sounds—from animals to machines to musical instruments —while introducing the basic concepts of vibration, volume, and pitch.

Design Squad: Sound
In this video segment adapted from Design Squad—a PBS TV series featuring high school contestants tackling engineering challenges—two teams compete to create unique but usable instruments for a local band. In the process, the teams learn about the physics of sound and music and then apply this knowledge to the construction of their own instruments. Watch to find out which instruments the band finds worthy of debuting in their next live show.


The Speed of Sound
Using the Speed of Sound exhibit at the Outdoor Exploratorium at Fort Mason in San Francisco, Shawn Lani shows us how sound perception is affected by distance.

Extreme Sounds
In this video from DragonflyTV, Sabrina and Tarissa use a decibel meter to monitor the surprising and sometimes dangerous sounds in their favorite New York hang-outs. (SciGirls en Español version also available)

Try these activities to conduct sound investigations where vibrating materials can make sound and sound can make materials vibrate!

Sound and Solids: Stereo Hangers
This video segment, adapted from ZOOM, explores how sound waves travel differently through solids than through air, in this case, a metal clothes hanger.

Sounds and Solids: Listening Stick
This video segment, adapted from ZOOM, explores how sound waves travel differently through air than through solids like a yardstick, a baseball bat, and a golf club.

Experimenting with a Glass Xylophone
In this video segment adapted from ZOOM, the cast investigates how the pitch of sound changes when they strike a variety of glasses filled with different amounts and types of liquids.

Pitch: Super Sounding Drums
This video segment, adapted from ZOOM, explores sounds made by homemade drums of different sizes, shapes, and materials.

Pitch: Water Trombone
This video segment, adapted from ZOOM, demonstrates how to use a drinking straw and a bottle full of water to make low- and high-pitched sounds.

Screen Shot 2013-06-27 at 9.57.00 AM
Hello, Martha? Is that you?

What about sounds in nature? Animals make and use sound for specific purposes. Visit Top Five Videos to Teach Sounds in Nature.

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