Send That Signal

Science Buddies
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Experiment/Lab Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan
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 technologically interactive lesson, students generate and compare multiple solutions for transmitting information by sending a message to a phone or tablet using Google’s free Science Journal app.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 4
Access Restrictions

Limited free access - Some material is available for viewing and/or downloading but most material tends to be accessible through other means.

Performance Expectations

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
In the design challenge included in the lesson, students compare multiple solutions for sending a 1-digit message to the other side of the classroom. This message cannot be transmitted in verbal or written form, nor through the use of gestures or sign language. Depending on the classroom environment, ambient light or noise may be additional constraints students will need to consider in developing their solution. Multiple opportunities for students to share and compare their results should be built into the lesson.

4-PS4-3 Generate and compare multiple solutions that use patterns to transfer information.

Clarification Statement: Examples of solutions could include drums sending coded information through sound waves, using a grid of 1’s and 0’s representing black and white to send information about a picture, and using Morse code to send text.

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students compare whether the use of light, sound, or vibration is the best method for transferring information across a room. Including the Lesson Plan Variations (included at the end of the lesson) to send more complicated messages will enable students to explicitly use patterns to transfer information.

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
The goal of the design challenge is to send a 1-digit message across the room using only light, sound, or the generation of vibration. After investigating ways to send their 1-digit message to the other side of the room (in pairs or small groups), students should share their findings with other groups and ultimately the whole class. During this process, students should make claims based on their evidence. “What were the most effective ways to communicate across the room? Why do you think this is so? How might we design additional investigations to gather more evidence?” The reflection phase of this lesson opens the door for students to consider and test additional variables (other than distance) as a part of their design solution (i.e., turning off the lights or requesting that students be silent during testing). The worksheet should be modified to allow students to record the results of implementing these additional design considerations.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students are actively engaged in the iterative process of testing different design solutions. They should be asked to describe the changes that they make to improve their designs and explain the reasoning behind them.

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
In this lesson, the Google Science Journal app uses the sensors of the cell phone or tablet to convert sound, light or vibration into digitized information. This demonstrates how data can be transferred wirelessly over a distance without significant degradation. The teacher can point this out during the lesson (along with other examples, such as using a wireless printer, etc.). While the app does not convert the digital form into voice, it does convert it into a graphical display that can be easily interpreted by the students.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Patterns in data produced by the accelerometer, microphone, and light sensor in conjunction with Google’s Science Journal app will enable students to determine the best method for sending their 1-digit message across their classroom. Extending the lesson to include the development and sending of more complex messages would enhance this crosscutting concept.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This resource engages students in generating and comparing multiple solutions for sending a 1-digit message within the multiple constraints that are posed by this challenge, which aligns itself explicitly to the Performance Expectations and Engineering Disciplinary Core Idea. However, the science-related Disciplinary Core Idea (digitized information can be transmitted over long distances without significant degradation) is not explicitly addressed. The teacher will need to highlight this content during the lesson. Inclusion of the Lesson Plan Variation to send more complicated messages is recommended to explicitly address the use of patterns to transfer information. Real world connections are made to highlight the contributions of the engineers and the technology used in this challenge. A more explicit alignment to the Crosscutting Concept is easily accomplished through a discussion of how these technologies meet our needs and benefit society.

  • Instructional Supports: The lesson engages students in authentic and meaningful scenarios that integrate science and engineering. The lesson could be strengthened by giving students more opportunities for students to express, justify, interpret and represent their ideas with each other (such as turn and talks, small group sharing, etc. during the Explore phase). While differentiation of instruction is not specifically addressed, this resource provides videos on how to use Google’s Science Journal app, how to use each sensor, and examples of how to record and interpret the graphical data. It also provides several suggestions for lesson plan variations to extend the learning of all students. However, the teacher will need to provide modeling and scaffolding to support all learners.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Students engage in a hands-on investigation that elicits direct, observable evidence of their learning. The lesson begins with a formative assessment asking students to share their ideas about the different ways they communicate. This gives the teacher information about student thinking and allows students to review their prior knowledge. The student worksheet and reflection questions will also provide formative assessment information. In addition, a summative quiz is provided. This quiz could be improved by changing it from a multiple choice format to open-ended questions in which students are required to explain their thinking.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The technology used in this resource enables students to convert sound, light or vibration into digitized information. It demonstrates how data can be transferred wirelessly over a distance. The interactivity with this technology is purposeful and directly related to the learning. Students will find that the accelerometer does not work well over long distances, and that the ambient light of the classroom will affect their performance of the light sensor. But discovering this and comparing the data generated by these sensors is part of the learning process.