Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Making Sound Waves in the Library

I should start out by saying - I am not a science teacher, nor do I play one on TV...I'm my school's teacher librarian, and I'm seriously trying to support our school's adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Last summer when I met with our first grade team to review programming needs for the year and to explore options for collaboration in the library, a big need that we identified was the implementation of the NGSS.  We also wanted to be able to work in something for CCSS W.1.7 "participate in shared research and writing projects". After some discussion, we settled on working with the NGSS standards that fall under the "Waves and their Applications" heading. 

The first grade teachers were already working with other first grade teachers across our district to develop their science lessons and investigations, so I really only had to reinforce the learning that was happening in the classrooms until it was time to conduct the investigation. One of the extra things we had decided to do was to use the app Tellagami to give students a chance to explain what they had learned about sound and light waves, so for each lesson I worked in a way to either model or give students a chance to practice with the app.

Over about a six week session, we discussed both sound and light waves.  I tried to build in a combination of beginning research skills, investigation strategies and sharing learning though the use of technology with Tellagami.

Focus on Sound in Nonfiction

We discussed sound waves over three library session (NGSS 1-PS4-1). I began by showing students through our Destiny catalog how we could look up books about sound, and then we practiced locating books about sound on the shelves. 

PebbleGo Physical Sciences Articles
The reading level of the books we currently have on sound are a bit high, so we browsed through a sound book we located just so the kids could get a look at how to use things like a table of contents and index. We then turned to PebbleGo, which has been an excellent resource for primary grades.  As a class we listened to the article on sound, went through the discussion questions provided under activities and students completed a notes page that is also located under activities. 

Technology to Help Solidify Understanding of Tough Concepts

Audacity is an open source audio editor & recorder
that you can download for free
From our discussion it seemed that the kids were having a bit of trouble understanding waves and pitch.  I had just been working with Audacity, and that seemed like it might be a good visual for them.  I will need to plan for using Audacity next year a little better, but in the moment I pulled up the program on the SmartBoard, gave a brief explanation of what it was and how it worked, and then I recorded my voice. I then asked for a student volunteer to record their voice, and we put the recordings side by side to compare how the waves looked.  There wasn't a significant difference, even though I have a fairly deep voice, but it did give the kids a better sense of how different sound waves might look, and the kids really got a kick out of the recordings. I think next year this is something we may also be able to do with Garageband and different instruments.   

Using Fiction to Reinforce Understanding of How Sound Travels

After we discussed sound and how it travels in waves, we then read the story
The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle.  When we got to the end, and the students heard the crickets chirping they were completely in awe.   In the beginning of the book it gives an explanation for how and why the crickets make sound.  So at the end we were able to discuss how real crickets were able to make the sound by vibrating their legs, and then we discussed why we could hear the cricket.

Modeling Ways for Students to Share their Learning

I used our discussion of sound and waves in the book to model for students how to use the Tellagami app to take a photo of what we were discussing and then how to explain how sound waves work through vibration.  We chose one of the illustrations in the book to act as our back drop for the Tellagami explanation, and then I modeled how they might talk about sound and vibration.

Creating a Model that Makes Sound
Students sketching out models
of their instruments on our
collaboration boards
Putting their designs into action 

In their classes, students were designing instruments and creating their own sounds as part of an investigation. As reinforcement to that activity, I told students that I had a bag of rubber bands, and that I wanted them to develop a model of something that would make a "good" sound using the rubber bands on their table's collaboration board.  The catch was: they could only use the things available to them on their tables and in their table's supply boxes.  At group tables, we always have a materials box that contains: boxes of crayons, posted notes, dry erase board markers, and a bucket that has pencils and erasers. I added a whisperphone to each of their tables and some books about sound before they arrived.   

Students used collaboration boards at each table to brainstorm and draw pictures of what they would like to create. Once they had their plan, they could send their group spokesperson to me for the rubber bands to test the plan.

In no time at all, most groups had agreed upon a model to try, and were building.  Some of them worked right away, and some had to rethink their approach, but all of the groups eventually created a device that made an interesting sound.  

I observed a number of the groups, who chose to use the whisperphone to create their instrument, holding the whisperphone up to their ear and plucking the rubber bands.  When I asked them what the difference was in sound, they noted that the pitch changed because the vibration sounded deeper when they held their ear closer.  They were really excited about this discovery.

Sharing What Was Learned 

To practice their Tellagami skills, the kids took pictures of their devices and explained how it worked to create sound.  I did remind them to use key terms from our study of sound in their discussion.

This session with Tellagami gave us some good practice.  We were able to view a few of the videos as a class and troubleshoot some of the problems we had with getting clear recordings. 

Here are a few of the videos the kids made as their first attempt at discussing their learning:

As a class effort, this was an exciting first attempt at trying to work in some NGSS standards into our library learning.  The kids were highly engaged and excited to try things and share what they had tried.

Upon reflection, this would have been an excellent way to also introduce the Super3 model of research to students and allow them to apply the Plan, Do, Review model.  I also know that I have a lot to learn about the new standards and supporting classroom teachers, but I hope to continue to improve upon learning the "talk" of science and methods that will allow students greater control of their learning.  I would also love to be able to challenge students to build a device that uses sound to solve the problem of communicating over distance (NGSS 1-PS4-4).

What resources do you use - or are your teachers using for teaching sound and light waves?  Is there anything that I could do to improve our 1st grade study of sound?  Do you have any ideas for a project that would help students communicate over a distance? 

I would love some feedback and some additional ideas!


  1. This is just the type of lesson I have been wanting to do with my younger students. It reinforces science objectives and teaches research. Students also get to create and show what they know as they learn.

    1. If you try something like this I'd love to know, especially if you can figure out a way to work in any model design ?