Focused exploration of sound

I started planning for this week by looking at last week’s list of things the children still wanted to know about sound. Curriculum that is child-driven often will engage them with a greater intensity than teacher-selected focus areas. Of course supportive guidance is commonly necessary to help children clarify and define their quest.

The children were very interested in volume. The questions they still had about sound reiterated the idea of loudness. Those questions included, Which is louder, a frog or a bird? How does a microphone make your voice louder? and finally, the question we decided to focus on, What materials sound the loudest?

The children decided we could find the answer to our question by hitting several objects with a hammer and listening to the sound each one made. They selected the objects for our test – a piece of wood, a pillow, newspaper, rock, metal, and plastic. I photographed the objects and the children made their predictions during our large group circle. Each child did this by placing his or her photograph beneath the photo of the object they predicted would be the loudest.

Later, in small groups, the children took turns hitting the various objects with a hammer and discussing which made the loudest sound. I found it interesting that they used the process of elimination. Every group immediately eliminated the pillow and newspaper. They went back and re-tested before rejecting the wood and the plastic.

They tested the metal and the rock repeatedly and engaged each other in dialogue. I liked that they were much more interested in finding the true answer than being “right” with their prediction.

My role at this point was to make sure that each child’s ideas were heard, and I found myself repeating their thoughts back to them: So you said the plastic was louder than the paper, hmmm, does everyone agree with that? Three out of four groups concluded that the rock and the metal were both equally loud. The fourth group determined the rock was the ultimate material for loudness.

This culmination of our month-long sound exploration was more about promoting the inquiry cycle than it was about the science content. We did not get into discourse of sound waves and decibels. The children came up with their own question. They designed a test as a method of finding an answer to their question. They made their predictions, carried out the test and formed conclusions. These conclusions led to more questions – Does it matter if you use a different hammer?  Does it make a difference if the materials are on the rug or on the floor or on the table? This is the nature of the inquiry cycle: my young scientists are now considering variables!

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