Enjoy Teaching Sound with Physics Activities for Kids

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Enjoy teaching sound with hands-on activities for kids. Your third, fourth, and fifth grade students will love them!

Enjoy Teaching Sound Cover

Ms. Sneed Wants to Enjoy Teaching Sound

Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, sighed deeply. More than anything, she wanted to teach with physical science activities and experiments.

Unfortunately, all she had was a textbook. She jumped up and ran to her computer. “Looks like it’s time for another spin on Pinterest,” she said to herself. “Let’s try sound activities for kids.”

A veritable smorgasbord of activities spread across the screen. “Yes!” said Ms. Sneed, as a smile spread across her face.

However, just as quickly as it came, the smile disappeared. What about the standards? Her kids needed to know about transfer of energy. Unfortunately, though, they didn’t have the background necessary to understand that.

“I guess I’ll just have to start at the beginning,” Ms. Sneed said to herself. She googled sound energy and started to make a list of questions:

  • What is sound?
  • How does sound travel?
  • What is amplitude?
  • What is pitch?
  • Which materials conduct and insulate sound?
  • Does sound travel better through solids, liquids, or gases?

Before tackling energy transfer, her kids needed to be able to answer these questions. Now to find some activities!

Ms. Sneed clicked back to Pinterest with a new sense of purpose. Carefully, she combed through the pins. One by one, she noted simple activities that gave students conceptual understanding of sound. In her mind, she imagined setting out everyday items and letting them explore. Then they could make their own scientific generalizations.

Sound Science Stations

The next day, Ms. Sneed was ready with a new sound unit. “Okay, class,” she said. “Today you will rotate through science stations to learn about sound.” The students looked at each other and grinned. This would certainly be more fun than the textbook.

“You’ll move from station to station with your science lab group,” Ms. Sneed continued. “As you try the activities, make notes and answer questions on your science lab sheets.”

What Is Sound?

Ms. Sneed followed a group to the first table. One student picked up a rubber band and plucked it near his ear. “Yep, I can hear the vibration,” he said.

One of his teammates struck a tuning fork against the sole of her ear. She started to giggle. “Wow, that sorta tickles,” she laughed. “And I hear a really high sound.”

“Let me try,” said another teammate.

“Wait, it says to hold it near some rice,” said another. The kids gathered around a tin can. Plastic wrap stretched across the top. One student sprinkled a few grains on top. Then another struck the tuning fork and held it near the rice. “Look!” shrieked one girl. “The vibration of the tuning fork makes the rice dance!”

“What about this water?” she said. The kid with the tuning fork struck it again and touched the surface of the water. Zap! Water flew everywhere.

“Whoa!” the team cried. And, of course, everyone had to try it – over and over again. The students sure were having fun! Ms. Sneed was really starting to enjoy teaching sound too.

Let your third grade, fourth grade, and fifth grade students learn about sound with hands-on experiments. In station 1, they use rubber bands, a tuning fork with a glass of water, and a can covered with plastic wrap to discover what sound is.

Are you “pinspired”? Feel free to pin images from this post.

How Does Sound Travel?

As Ms. Sneed moved to the next station, a strange sight caught her eye. One student was clapping his hands behind his back in an uneven rhythm. Another clapped above her head. Ms. Sneed laughed. “Can you hear the clapping behind your back?” Ms. Sneed asked.

“Sure can,” replied the child. “Sound must not travel in a straight line like light.”

Ms. Sneed moved over to the table. A girl dropped a penny into a bowl of water. “Hey, Ms. Sneed, look how the waves go out in all directions,” she remarked.

Several of the kids grabbed a Slinky from the table. They each took an end and spread it out a bit. Then one of them gave a little push to his side. “Hey, look at that. The bunched up part moves down the Slinky!”

Ms. Sneed nodded, “Yep, that’s the compression. And those places where it’s spreading out,” she pointed out, “are rarefactions.”

In this series of sound experiments, students explore how sound travels. They simulate compressions and rarefactions with a Slinky. In addition, they drop pebbles in water. Observations and generalizations are recorded on the lab sheet.

What Is Amplitude? 

Evidently, being noisy at school is fun. The kids at the third station were hitting the table with spoons – harder and harder and harder. “Wait a minute,” said Ms. Sneed. “That’s probably hard enough.”

The students looked at her sheepishly. “Well, Ms. Sneed, the paper did say that we should increase the amplitude…”

“Maybe you should move onto the rubber bands,” their teacher replied. “I wonder what would happen if you applied that much force to them?” Everyone laughed.

You'll enjoy teaching sound with this set of sound experiments. At station 3, students learn about amplitude with simple materials like rubber bands and spoons. They record their findings on this lab sheet.

What Is Pitch?

At the fourth station, everyone was lined up to try blowing across the top of a big jug. “There’s a nuance to that,” said Ms. Sneed. “Can I try?” A student handed her the jug. After cleaning the it with an antibacterial wipe, Ms. Sneed put her bottom lip against the jug. She stretched her top lip across the opening. Then she blew steadily. A long, low “Woooooooo” filled the room. Everyone cheered.

“Look over here, Ms. Sneed,” cried one girl. Three glass bottles, each filled with a different amount of liquid, sat on the table. The girl picked up a spoon and tapped each bottle. “Can you hear that?” she asked. “It’s like a musical instrument with different notes.”

“This is too,” added a boy. He held a box. Rubber bands of different widths were stretched across it.

“Have you been able to figure out what makes a low sound?” asked Ms. Sneed.

“Yep. It’s when there’s more stuff or more room,” grinned the boy.

Students love these hands-on sound experiments. At station 4, they explore pitch. Activities include plucking rubber bands of different widths, tapping on jars filled with different amounts of water, and blowing into a jug.

Which Materials Conduct and Insulate Sound? 

The kids at the next station were shouting into a coffee can. (Who knew that they’d be allowed to yell at school?!) Every time someone shouted into the can, they replaced the material inside: soft cloth, crumpled paper, aluminum foil, etc.

“Ms. Sneed! Ms. Sneed! You need to try this!” The group took their teacher by the arm and led her to the coffee can. “We put the aluminum foil in first. Now yell into the can, Ms. Sneed.”

Their teacher’s eyes grew wide. Then they started to water as she burst out laughing. “Oh alright,” she conceded. “AHHHHHHHHH!”

Kids from other groups gathered around. Everyone laughed. “Man, that was loud,” said Ms. Sneed.

“Okay, now we’ll put the soft cloth in,” said a rather bossy boy. “Yell again.”

“AHHHhhhhh. Oh hey, that’s not so loud,” said Ms. Sneed.

“We know,” said the group members. “It’s obvious that soft cloths are insulators.”

At station 5, students conduct sound experiments with various materials to see which conduct and insulate sound. They fill a large metal can with paper, cloth, aluminum foil, and other materials then shout into it. They tap the table with spoons made of metal, wood, and plastic.

Does Sound Travel Better Through Solid, Liquid, or Gas?

Finally, Ms. Sneed moved to the last station. “What’s going on here?” she asked.

A metal spoon was tied to the middle of a piece of string. A girl with glasses had looped the ends of the string around her fingers, which she placed in her ears.

“You seriously won’t believe this,” the girl told her teacher. “Try it.”

Ms. Sneed wrapped her fingers with the string. She leaned over and let the spoon strike the side of the table. GOOONNNGGG!

“Oh my goodness! That. Was. Awesome.” Even though Ms. Sneed had set up the stations, she had no idea how impressive sound traveling through a solid would be.

In these sound experiments, students explore whether sound travels better through solid, liquid, or gas.

More Exploration

Ms. Sneed couldn’t remember a time that she felt so enthused about teaching science. Yes, big kids need centers too. As the groups finished up, she asked them to watch related sound videos, read trade books, and explore websites. She even created a sound bulletin board to reinforce concepts. As time went on, her lesson plans grew to include a related STEM activity.

The Complete Unit and Beyond

Did Ms. Sneed enjoy teaching sound? You bet. She was so pleased with her new sound unit. The next year, she decided to use the same principles to create a unit on light.

When kids explore and experiment, learning comes to life. As they make generalizations, they use higher order thinking skills. “Ditch the textbook,” Ms. Sneed likes to say. “That way, learning will be fun, memorable, and meaningful.”

Enjoy Teaching

Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.

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