This unit starts off with the children investigating sound as vibration, and thinking about it as a form of energy. In the next larger part of the unit they move on to consider how sound travels through different materials at different rates. The longer final part of the unit engages the children's thinking about sound through everyday human, physical experience. Here, we investigate the voice box and the ear, as we draw upon our earlier discoveries of sound as vibrating, traveling energy.
We have found that young children have a hard time thinking about things that they cannot see, so one of our goals in this unit was to make sound visible in a number of different ways. For example, in one activity we had the students work with a type of diaphragm (made from a coffee can) that had a mirror situated on it. A spot of light reflected off the mirror, which clearly showed changes in vibration as high and low pitched sounds were made. A related experiment allowed the children to visualize sound as salt "dancing" on a stretched piece of plastic, and a third experiment permits them to create a simple system that self-records its own vibration.
Hands-on exploration of sound as energy provides a base in this unit to help the children investigate how they experience sound, with their bodies, on an everyday basis. In one activity, we role-played the parts of the ear vibrating from sound, and although we did not emphasize memorization, we were surprised at how many students became interested in the names and learned them. We invited several specialists to talk with the children about experiencing sound, including a speech specialist and a hearing impaired specialist. The children were also fascinated to watch a professional signing interpreter tell a story. Through our focus on sound as a bodily experience, and by way of the specialists, we were able to discuss many of the health issues involved in caring for one's voice box and ears.
We have attempted to thoroughly integrate all subject areas into this unit; you will find many connections to subjects beyond science in both the main activities and in the extensions. Graphing in math, musical pitch, stories of sound and deafness, journal keeping, and art projects are some of the interdisciplinary threads running through the unit. We would be interested in your ideas of further activities and interdisciplinary connections. Additionally, we continue to consider ways that we can meaningfully assess our students' work, and would like feedback in this area. If you would like further information on our unit, or would like to respond, you may e-mail Becky.
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