The Neighborhood Telephone System

Contributor
Richard Koniceck
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Lesson/Lesson Plan
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

Everyday Science Mysteries is an award-winning series that enables students to explore science phenomena/mysteries that occur in their everyday lives.  In this "Everyday Science Mystery" students explore the many variables that affect the quality of the sound on the TCT (Tin Can Telephone). This story uses the TCTS to initiate investigation into how sound waves move across a medium and create an engineering opportunity for students to improve a simple device.

Intended Audience

Educator
Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Available for purchase - The right to view, keep, and/or download material upon payment of a one-time fee.

Performance Expectations

3-5-ETS1-3 Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students might plan and carry out testing of different designs for the string telephone, changing variables such as materials, distance, voice volume, etc and setting up fair tests. It may be necessary for a discussion about the importance of controlling variables and what makes a fair test before before students begin to work. For example, students might want to test if the amplitude changes if the distance between the cups change or they might want to know if the type of can makes a difference. To do this, students would set up the procedure, perform the investigation, and record the data from multiple trials in their science notebooks.

3-5-ETS1-2 Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The students are generating possible solutions to making a better TCTS using simple materials that are provided by the teacher. Students would be trying to make a TCTS that will best transmit sound waves as they travel through their systems. They would go through the engineering design process in revising their system. Students would create a data table so they could compare each of their designs against the desired outcome, a louder more clear transfer of sound using the TCTS.

4-PS4-1 Develop a model of waves to describe patterns in terms of amplitude and wavelength and that waves can cause objects to move.

Clarification Statement: Examples of models could include diagrams, analogies, and physical models using wire to illustrate wavelength and amplitude of waves.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include interference effects, electromagnetic waves, non-periodic waves, or quantitative models of amplitude and wavelength.

This resource was not designed to build towards this performance expectation, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students are introduced to the TCTS in the mystery. The girls want to have more telphone time and their parents introduced them to TCTS. The girls created their first model where they began addressing 4-PS4-1 using two empty tomato cans and string. They set up the telephone system between the two windows and tried the system but nothing happened. When prompted by their parents, the girls pulled the string tight and asked “why?” Stop reading the story here and ask students what questions they have about the TCTS. See Asking Questions below for more specific details. Student questions that might come up are: I wonder what will happen if we begin changing materials? With teacher guidance these student questions can lead to the students being engaged in the engineering design process. To more fully align with the practice, students can use the TCTS and develop a model in their science notebook and then with a partner on chart paper or a whiteboard of how their voices cause the cans to vibrate along the string and back into the can. After students have done this, call them to an a scientists’ meeting where they listen to the thinking of their peers, and ask clarifying and probing question. Students might be allowed to go back with a different color writing utensil and change the models they constructed in their notebooks.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Building off the teacher questions in Asking Questions above, the design process might be introduced. Students first think about the first TCTS the girls created. As a group they might brainstorm thoughts and ideas to make the TCTS better. Students might then be put in teams to identify the criteria for success and constraints on materials and time, then develop a prototype TCTS to meet the criteria.

This resource was not designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
After the girls have tried the string telephones on page 130, the teacher should stop reading. By doing this, students can ask their own questions and have some voice in the learning which will drive the the planning of their own investigation. Students might be given 3 minutes to record all their individual questions, then they take those questions to a small group and make a group list of all of the questions. Students then go through their list and decide whether each question is an observational, research, or a question they can investigate. If the students don’t get all the important questions in, the teacher can add some of the questions asked in the story on page 131. For example in this story, a teacher might want to include, “How can we design a TCTS that makes our voice really clear?” Students need to have multiple opportunities to ask questions throughout the whole mystery.

This resource was not designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students will develop a model for improving the TCTS (solution). As discussed on page 167 students should be asked what are their ideas are based on the questions generated , and why the model they made of a TCTS works. By doing this, students will have an opportunity think about their system as a model for the transmission of sound. Students can create a consensus model with a partner of how the voice creates vibrations that travel across the string into the tin can and is amplified. They can do this using words and pictures on chart paper or whiteboards. They can also think about the model as a system made of parts, which only works when all of the components are working together.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This core idea is at the heart of this resource. The TCTS in the resource suggests particular materials. As students work towards optimizing their design, they are going to want to try to construct and test the system using different materials including :paper, styrofoam, and plastic cups. They may want to try using wire, rubber tubing or yarn to replace the string. An important tip for teachers would be to make those materials available to the students. Students could choose and explain why the new choice would optimize the previous design.

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
In this process, have students collaboratively reconsider what outcomes they are looking for and whether their proposed solution meets these needs. They can do this by asking clarifying questions. For example, “Will louder equal clearer?” Students should participate in an engineers meeting where they can engage in discourse about what conditions should be prepared for when developing their designs and followed up by a dialogue after testing in different conditions. By talking in the engineers meetings, students have an opportunity to articulate how their design ideas might work under certain conditions. The students might then test their designs in different conditions, inside the classroom, outside, on a sunny day, cloudy day etc. because these are likely condition a user of TCTS would encounter. The students might come back to the engineering meeting with their results. “My newly designed and revised TCTS is made of … and works best under these conditions because...” By doing this students have a chance to share their ideas, what worked well, what they might change next time, etc. They will also be modeling the real life discourse that are part of both a scientist and an engineer’s investigative process.

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The teacher might review and reinforce student understanding of sound waves and how it relates to the design solution as the student test their TCTS with string slack, string taut or with cups made of different materials. It will be up to the teacher to make explicit connections to amplitude and wavelength. This mystery would work well integrated into a larger unit exploring sound waves. Before engaging students in this story, students should understand beforehand how vibrating matter creates sound, how sound travels in waves, and how differences in the characteristics of the waves determine pitch and volume. This information could be built on the earlier learning that sound can make matter vibrate and vibrating matter makes sound.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The TCTS is a system made up of two cups and a piece of string. As a system, sound waves that come from the person speaking can be transmitted into the cup and over the string to the other person. This happens when all the pieces work together. The system will not work using the components as individual elements. It will be important for the teacher to be explicit about how the components make up a whole and how the function to transmit sound as they go through the engineering design process. It is also critical the teacher makes the connection to Influence of Science, Engineering and Technology on Society and the Natural World. One of the reason we have cell phones today and not TCTS is because as new technologies became available they brought about innovations and improvements that changed the way people interact with each other. Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones to increase their benefits, to decrease known risks, and to meet societal demands.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Although this book was published before NGSS were released there are some strong Everyday Science Mysteries that can support the standards and this is one of them. This piece can be used in two different ways. First as anchoring phenomenon to engage student interest and move them toward investigations and engineering design. It can also be used after instruction has been provided for 4-PS4-1 as an application of the science. There are tips included with this resource that lend themselves to both purposes and strengthen the alignment to the dimensions of the NGSS.

  • Instructional Supports: While there are no specific grouping or other suggestions, the author does offer supplementary information that is very helpful for the teacher including: purpose, content background, and suggestions how to use the resource with children in grades K-4 and grades 5-8. This resource does engage students in a meaningful scenario that provides students with a purpose for designing a solution. Through the design process, it provides opportunities for students to express, represent, and justify their ideas.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: There are no assessment suggestions provided but prior to beginning the unit a teacher might show the students the TCTS and ask the students how this system works. Students could respond in their science notebooks using words and pictures. After students have engaged in learning experiences and at the end of this instructional sequence, students could respond to the same prompt. Teachers will be able to identify strengths and areas for more work based on the pre-assessment.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: There is no technology aapplication in this resource.