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The molecules in matter vibrate when something makes a sound. The vibrations are called sound waves. Sound waves move from one molecule to another as they pass through matter.

Bats have an excellent sense of hearing. They can hear high-pitched sounds that are out of our range of hearing. Bats use this ability to find their way around in dark caves. When a bat makes a high-pitched sound, it bounces off the wall of a cave as an ultrasound echo. The bat can tell how far away the wall is based on the time that it took between the sound being made and return of the echo.

A dolphin can also use clicks to echolocate. A dolphin makes a clicking noise and when the sound bounces and echoes off an object, it travels back to the dolphin to its lower jam, then to its ear, and, finally, to its brain. The brain is able to distinguish the object’s shape, size, and location through echolocation. Using echolocation, dolphins can distinguish if a can is tin or aluminum, if a fish is alive or dead, and if an item is as small as a pea.

Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • use two models to demonstrate how sound waves occur.
  • infer how sound waves travel out from a source and weaken as they spread.
  • demonstrate how sound echoes off of objects.
  • show how animals use echolocation to understand their surroundings.

Teacher planning

Time required

One 60-minute period

Materials needed

  • recordings of animals sounds, “talking drums,” and whistled communication (see Activities section for more information)
  • Slinkies, one per pair of students
  • water
  • marbles
  • large and small bowls
  • garden hose (or similar tubing such as connected drinking straws)

Activities

This lesson uses the 5E instructional model, which includes five phases: engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate.

Engage

Play audio recordings of animal communication. Allow students to identify when they start hearing sound and when the sound has ended. The Wild Music and Macauley Library websites are good places to find animal recordings.

Play examples of special sounds from different human cultures to peak student awareness of sound and distance. Listen to examples of African drumming. Relate how drums were used for communication in Africa, New Guinea, and the tropical America. The largest drums’ sound waves travel the farthest. Segments in the PBS film Feels Like Going Home show tribal drumming. You can also find video clips of artists playing the “talking drum” on YouTube.

Listen to examples of whistled communication. Relate how whistles can be heard across their environment. This page on the French website Le Monde Siffle contains a variety of whistled communication from different areas throughout the world.

Explore

Give each pair of students a Slinky. Have students stretch out the Slinky and explore waves created in the Slinky when it is compressed and stretched. Discuss with individual pairs how the wave pushes through each coil and makes it vibrate and also how the coil stops moving after the wave passes. Ask students how this might be similar to sound waves. Ask students what direction the wave moves. They should say linear (left or right). Ask students if sound works that way and do we have to be directly in the line of sound to hear it.

Next, give each pair of students a small bowl of water and a marble. Ask students what will happen when they drop the marble in the water. Ask to drop the marble in the bowl of water and share what they see and hear. Then have students drop a marble in a large bowl of water. Discuss the rings they see. Ask students how this might be similar to sound.

Explain

Discuss how sound waves move from one molecule to the next just like the wave moves from one coil to the next in the Slinky. Discuss how sound does not only travel in one direction but spreads out.

Have a student stand at the back of the room and whisper something to students at the front of the room. Discuss how it is hard to hear them because the sound waves spread out.

Next stretch out a garden hose and have the same student whisper something into the hose while someone at the front holds the hose to his or her ear. Make sure the student doesn’t yell as it could hurt the listener’s ear. Discuss that you can hear through the hose because the hose keeps the sound waves from spreading out and becoming weaker. If you don’t have garden hose, you can connect several drinking straws together and have the student whisper into one end as a partner listens on the other side. Discuss how the sound waves travel through the straws.

Elaborate

Ask students what happens when sound waves hit an object such as a wall. Discuss possibilities. Discuss what happens when a tennis ball hits a wall. What would happen if sound waves could bounce back like a ball?

Have students go outside near the school or in an empty room and shout. The sound waves should bounce back in an echo.

Using the introductory material at the beginning of this lesson plan, discuss how some animals use echolocation to understand their surroundings.

Extend

Have students explore acoustical spaces by encouraging them to sing in the bathroom, in the cafeteria, and the gymnasium.

Evaluate

Students should be evaluated based upon teacher observation.

Critical vocabulary

echolocation
the transmission of sound waves in order to locate objects
acoustics
interdisciplinary science that deals with the study of sound, ultrasound, and infrasound; the total effect of sound, especially as produced in an enclosed space

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Music Education (2010)
      • Grade 5

        • 5.CR.1 Understand global, interdisciplinary, and 21st century connections with music. 5.CR.1.1 Understand how music has affected, and is reflected in, the culture, traditions, and history of the United States. 5.CR.1.2 Understand the relationships between...
      • Grade 6

        • 6.CR.1 Understand global, interdisciplinary, and 21st century connections with music. 6.CR.1.1 Understand music in relationship to the geography, history, and culture of world civilizations and societies from the beginning of human society to the emergence...
        • 6.MR.1 Understand the interacting elements to respond to music and music performances. 6.MR.1.1 Illustrate perceptual skills by moving to, answering questions about, and describing aural examples of music of various styles and cultures. 6.MR.1.2 Analyze aural...
      • Science (2010)
        • 6.P.1 Understand the properties of waves and the wavelike property of energy in earthquakes, light and sound waves. 6.P.1.1 Compare the properties of waves to the wavelike property of energy in earthquakes, light and sound. 6.P.1.2 Explain the relationship...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Music Education (2001)

Grade 4

  • Goal 6: The learner will listen to, analyze, and describe music.
    • Objective 6.02: Demonstrate perceptual skills by conducting, moving to, answering questions about, and describing aural examples of music of various styles and cultures.
    • Objective 6.04: Identify visually and aurally a variety of instruments, including many orchestra and band instruments, and instruments from various cultures.
  • Goal 8: The learner will understand relationships between music, the other arts, and content areas outside the arts.
    • Objective 8.02: Identify ways in which the principles and subject matter of other content areas taught in the school are related to those of music.
  • Goal 9: The learner will understand music in relation to history and culture.
    • Objective 9.01: Identify the style or genre of aural music examples from various historical periods and cultures.
    • Objective 9.03: Identify various uses of music, and describe characteristics that make certain music suitable for each use.

Grade 5

  • Goal 6: The learner will listen to, analyze, and describe music.
    • Objective 6.02: Demonstrate perceptual skills by conducting, moving to, answering questions about, and describing aural examples of varied musical styles and cultures.
    • Objective 6.04: Identify visually and aurally a variety of instruments, including many orchestra and band instruments, and instruments from various cultures.
  • Goal 8: The learner will understand relationships between music, the other arts, and content areas outside the arts.
    • Objective 8.02: Identify ways in which the principles and subject matter of other content areas taught in the school are related to those of music.
  • Goal 9: The learner will understand music in relation to history and culture.
    • Objective 9.01: Identify the style of aural musical examples from various historical periods and cultures.
    • Objective 9.03: Identify various uses of music, and describe characteristics that make certain music suitable for each use.