From Vibrations to Vocalizations

Jessica Merricks Jennifer Henderson
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Data , Experiment/Lab Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Model , Simulation , Unit
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.



This unit is aligned to multiple Performance Expectations from the following topic arrangements: 4-PS4: Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer, and 4-LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes.  Students will first investigate the physics of sound, then use their observational and data analysis skills to understand the multiple applications of sound in comparing different frog calls. This review will primarily focus on lessons that address Performance Expectation 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.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 4
Access Restrictions

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Performance Expectations

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 appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students build a model to begin this series of lessons by stretching plastic wrap over the open end of the coffee can, securing it with a rubber band, then sprinkling rice grains over the top of the plastic wrap. Students observe that creating loud noises near their model causes the rice grains to move and that the distance and the intensity of the noises affects the movement of the rice. Students then compare their models with preserved models of frog and lizard ears to further understand how sound waves cause objects to move. To explicitly align this lesson to the Performance Expectation, it is recommended that the students build the model, explore and make observations as they engage with their device, then draw a model of what is causing the rice to move. Concepts of amplitude and wavelength can be introduced based on their observations of how distance and intensity affected the movement of the rice. Further investigation based on their discussions would enable students to identify and describe patterns in the transmission of sound. Based on their learning, students should then revise their model drawing, supported by evidence from their investigations.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students will develop a model to understand how sound transmissions can cause objects to move. They then compare their model with preserved ear structures of frogs and lizards. Their model serves as an analogy of what happens when sound vibrations (waves) hit the tympanic membrane of the ear.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
To explicitly align this resource to the Disciplinary Core Idea, connections between the intensity of the sound produced and the amplitude of the wave needs to be made. Having students draw models of these connections are recommended to assess their thinking. To investigate wavelength, students will need to make close observations and look for patterns in the jumps of rice as vibrations are created using different sizes of pans. Observing salt jump while striking a variety of tuning forks is another possibility (it’s also quieter). Recording the jumps using a free app such as Slo Mo is suggested to enable those close observations to be made.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
As students explore with their model they observe that the louder the sound transmission created, the higher the rice jumps. With further exploration, they will also observe the the frequency of its movement depended on how fast or slow the sound transmissions were. These patterns need to be made explicit as students share and discuss their observations as a whole class.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This unit provides opportunities to develop and use specific elements of the three dimensions to make sense of sound wave phenomenon. Its alignment to the Practice of Developing and Using Models is most evident. The unit also provides the basis for conducting data analysis of oscillograms and how organisms communicate. It is here that the understanding of wave properties and crosscutting concept of patterns is most rigorously applied.

  • Instructional Supports: This unit engages students in a series of authentic and meaningful first-hand investigations that reflect the practice of science as experienced in the real world. This lesson on wave properties provides the foundational understanding upon which subsequent investigations are conducted. Differentiation of instruction is not provided. Struggling students should be paired with classmates who can actively support them as the investigations are conducted. Students who express high interest or exceed the performance expectations may want to conduct a comparative investigation of other animal calls, such as whales.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Observations as students conduct their investigations and conversations during class discussions will provide formative assessment data. Student recordings of their investigations in a notebook is recommended to provide additional formative assessment information to monitor student progress. Here is a notebook link that might be helpful: Having students revisit and revise their model drawings at the end of the unit would provide summative assessment information. Finally, having students reflect on their learning at the end of the unit is suggested to provide additional summative assessment information.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This unit will enable students to engage with Audacity software, which enables them to input, collect, and interpret data in the form of oscillograms. Oscillograms are recordings of sound amplitude and frequency over a period of time.