Sound Energy Unit, Grade 4

University of Washington Tools for Ambitious Science Teaching
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Experiment/Lab Activity , 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.



In this phenomenon-driven instructional sequence, students will engage in a series of investigations to gather evidence and construct explanations as to how a singer is able to use his voice to shatter a glass.  They will look for patterns as they analyze the data and engage in multiple opportunities to develop and revise models of this event in support of their explanations.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 5
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

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
Two investigative activities in this unit specifically align to this Performance Expectation. In Decibels at a Distance, patterns in the data reveal that as distance from the source increases, volume decreases. In Seeing Sound Waves, patterns in the data reveal the relationship between volume and amplitude. Students develop and revise the models that support their explanations in light of new evidence revealed in each investigation. To more explicitly align to the Performance Expectation, it is recommended that stronger connections be made between the amplitude of the wave as it relates to the volume of sound. The relationship between wavelength and pitch also needs to be more evident.

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 develop an initial model to explain the phenomenon of the singer able to shatter the glass. They will continually revise their models in light of new evidence provided with each investigation. At the conclusion of the unit, they will use their models to provide an evidence-based explanation of the phenomenon.

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
As described above, elements of the Disciplinary Core Idea are investigated, but the relationship between volume and amplitude, and wavelength and pitch need to be made more explicit.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
This unit consistently requires students to identify patterns and relationships in the data generated by their investigations to support their explanation of the phenomenon.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: All three dimensions are present in this unit of instruction. Student engagement in the Practices and Crosscutting Concepts is the strength of this instructional sequence. The lessons are structured in a way that requires students to continually look for patterns of evidence and revise their thinking. Their understanding of the phenomenon is evident through the models they develop. It should be noted that activities 4 and 5 of this unit that are aligned to Performance Expectations beyond the fourth grade level. The potential is there for fourth grade students to grasp the concepts presented in these lessons, but they should not be assessed on them. Activity 4 may also be better aligned to the expectations for fourth grade, if the focus in on the transmission of the sound in waves and less on what is happening at the particle level. Finally, it is important to note that sound as a distinct form of energy is misleading (see Framework for K-12 Science Education, page 5-13,) and could be discussed as energy that is moved or is transferred through sound instead.

  • Instructional Supports: This unit engages students in three-dimensional learning to make sense of a phenomenon. The investigations steadily build on students’ initial understanding, which is captured in their initial model drawing. They are provided opportunities to interpret, represent, clarify, and justify their ideas with each investigation. These opportunities are reflected in the revisions of their models and the discussions that conclude each investigation. Teacher content understanding and support for unit coherence is definitely a strength of this resource. Continual assessment of the students as they develop their models and share their explanations will enable the teacher to provide the appropriate differentiation of instruction to address the needs of struggling students.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The continual cycle of student engagement in investigations, model development and explanation provides direct observable evidence of three-dimensional learning and provides multiple opportunities for teachers to formatively assess the students. There is a checklist that provides guidance for interpreting student performance. Providing students a simplified version of this checklist is suggested to make understanding learning expectations accessible to all students.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This is not an interactive, technology-based resource.