Making Sense of Sound- December 2016 Science & Children Article

Deepika Menon and Deanna Lanford
Type Category
Instructional Materials Assessment Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Experiment/Lab Activity
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 article describes a 5E lesson focused on the exploration of sound and sound waves. Many opportunities for hands-on investigations, discourse, and the use of technology are integrated into the lesson. Investigations follow where students talk and record their thinking both individually and collaboratively. Students use PhET wave simulation models to help them develop their understanding of waves and the Twisted Wave app to understand wavelength and amplitude. Detailed supporting documents are provided, which include teachers questions to guide the discussions.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 4
Access Restrictions

Available by subscription - The right to view and/or download material, often for a set period of time, by way of a financial agreement between rights holders and authorized users.

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 is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students draw pictures of what they think to be happening while observing the model of their voices as sound waves generated by the Twisted Wave app. Once students have completed their initial model drawings, this Performance Expectation could be extended by having them work in pairs, collaboratively come to consensus about what the model should capture, and draw that consensus model together. Students can record their consensus model on chart paper, thereby making their thinking public to their classmates.

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 analyzed the two dimensional wave pattern they produced using the Twisted Wave app to build on their understanding of wave characteristics. As described above the students then drew an explanatory model in their journals and the suggestion was that two students partner up and come up with a consensus model. If students then collaborate on a consensus model, it then affords the opportunity talk about their models, ask questions and build on each other's ideas, and argue with evidence, thereby enhancing their understanding of the Disciplinary Core Idea. To facilitate the discussion of models, the teacher could ask, "How is this model like the real thing? How is it different? How could we improve our models?

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This article includes supporting documents that support student understanding of the Disciplinary Core Idea. Students could be explicitly asked to demonstrate their understanding of the Disciplinary Core Idea by asking them to answer the guiding questions such as, “How could we make the sounds we've investigated visible?” Students could make a claim in response and support their claim with evidence from their investigations. Students might also be asked if they could find other examples of how sound can be made visible. Other questions students might explicitly answer using a claims, evidence and reasoning framework might be the following: How does sound travel through a medium such as air? Can sound travel in a vacuum like outer space where there is no air?

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
In the article there is a connection chart on page 47 which calls out the crosscutting concept, but it not explicitly addressed a part of instruction. A suggestion might be for questions to be developed that students could address about patterns when they participating in all the different investigations. For example, “What patterns did we see when we were using the plastic cup telephones? How can these patterns help us explain how string connecting two plastic cups serve as the medium for conducting sound from one cup to the other? “ Or, “What patterns do we see when we look at images of our voices on the Twisted Wave app?”

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This is an excellent resource very closely aligned with NGSS. Students who participate in this lesson have an opportunity to be proficient in the skill (practice) of developing a model to explain a phenomenon. More explicit attention to the Crosscutting Concepts in day-to-day instruction and investigation make this resource stronger.

  • Instructional Supports: The article explicitly discusses grouping of students, safety issues and potential student misconceptions. This resources includes teacher materials and student handouts. The resource uses scientifically accurate and grade-appropriate scientific information, phenomena, and representations to support students’ three-dimensional learning. Vocabulary is introduced at an appropriate time, after students have developed conceptual understanding. There is a chart at the end of the article that calls out the connections to the three dimensionality of the lesson. Additional challenges are included for those who might be ready to move their learning forward. Struggling learners may need additional scaffolding as the lessons progresses. Including many opportunities for students to talk and express their learning in a variety of ways will be valuable to all students.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Both formative and summative assessment are addressed multiple times in the article . Examples of the concept cartoons used are shared and a place for teachers to make their own concept cartoons is provided. Potential assessment ideas are included in each of the supporting documents.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Students have the opportunity to use the Twisted Wave app to move their learning forward. They record their voices and have the opportunity to continue developing their understanding about amplitude and wavelength through this application. The use of the PHet simulation as part of the instruction enables them understand that sound does not travel in a vacuum. Using the PhET simulation will help students further develop their understanding of amplitude and wavelength and that sound does not travel in a vacuum.