What Direction Do Sound Waves Travel? All Directions!

Your kids may wonder, “What direction do sound waves travel?” With just a few fun activities, they will quickly discover that sound waves travel in all directions.

Ms. Sneed Plans Sound Energy Stations

Our favorite fourth grade teacher sat at the side table with her co-teacher. “In our second sound activity, our kids will investigate the directions sound waves travel.”

Mr. Frank opened the file folder in front of him and sorted through the papers. “Right. The top of the lab sheet lets them explore the way they spread out in all directions. On the bottom, they take a look at the way molecules move.”

What Direction Does Sound Move When You Clap?

Now Ms. Sneed looked at the lab sheet. “The first activity is super simple. Kids clap their hands. First, they clap them in front of their bodies. Second, they clap above their heads. Third, they do it behind their backs. Obviously, they can hear it each time. Therefore, sound waves travel in all directions.”

“Right. Hopefully they’ll contrast it with light, which travels in a straight line.”

What direction do sound waves travel? Try this simple clapping activity to find out.
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Observe How Waves Travel in Water

“Next,” Ms. Sneed continued, “they drop pennies in containers of water. As they hear the plop, they also see waves spread out in all directions. This reinforces the concept of the way sound waves travel.”

“Again, super simple,” Mr. Frank commented.

How do sound waves travel? When you drop a penny in some water, you find that a noise happens and waves spread out in all directions (including to your ear.)

Use a Slinky to See How Sound Travels

“Finally,” said Ms. Sneed, “kids use a Slinky to simulate compressions and rarefactions. After spreading the Slinky out a bit, the child at one end gives it a quick jab. Then all of the students can see the waves pressing in and out. This motion is similar to the way sound waves travel.”

Surprisingly, a Slinky can help you understand how sound waves travel through matter. It compresses then spreads out in a pattern.

Enjoy Teaching Sound

Mr. Frank sat back in his seat with a contented sigh. “I love the simplicity of these activities. As our students explore with everyday objects, they build conceptual understanding about sound, including: vibrations, pitch, amplitude, conductors, and density.”

Ms. Sneed smiled. “Agreed. Our physical science activities are just right for our fourth grade classes.”

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