Hear The Wave!

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Biology In Elementary Schools is a Saint Michael's College student project from a course that ran between 2007 and 2010 and fully described in this book chapter. The student-created resources have been preserved here for posterity. Link under 'toolbox' for printer-friendly versions of the exercises. Click on handouts to print full resolution versions. Please see Wikieducator's disclaimer, our safety statement, and the Creative Commons licensing in English and in legalese.

Program title

Student worthiness

Tried and Trusted.


During the activities in this lesson, many objects will need to be placed near the ears. Be sure that students do not put objects in their ear. The experience is just as intense when objects are close to, rather than inside the ear.

Primary biological content area covered

Sound waves; functions of parts of the ear; movement of sound vibrations through matter including solids, liquids, and gases; transformation of energy to sound vibration; sound intensity.


  • Two glasses or jars both the same size
  • Water
  • Metal hanger (the thicker the metal, the better the sound)
  • A 5 foot piece of thin string
  • Stethoscope
  • Coconut shell cut in half
  • A plain piece of paper
  • Tuning fork (optional)
  • Shallow dish of water (optional)
  • Funnel with a long tube (optional)


The link to this graph can be used for the students to chart how loud the object was for him or her. Each box requires a simple "check" or "X."

Figure 1

Description of activity

In this experiment, students will learn all about soundwaves. Using different techniques and objects, students investigate how different sounds are made from different objects, and how the soundwaves for each are different from one another.

Lesson plan

Introduction: Talk with students about how sound waves are a transfer of energy, often from motion to sound. Have students experiment with this idea by clapping. Students will see the motion of their hands creating the sound. Emphasize the transfer of energy from their hands to the sound in the air. Ask students questions about the intensity of the noise made when they clap. See if they can make the sound of their clapping softer. Ask students what they did with their hands to make the sound softer. Make the connection between the amount of energy exerted and the intensity of the sound made.

  1. Create a number of sound stations. Have the stations spread apart so that one station does not obstruct another with noise. There will be a station with two glass jars, full halfway with water, and a spoon to tap the jars. The second station will include a metal hanger with the middle part of the string attached to the hook of the hanger so that the two ends of the string are loose. The third station will have a stethoscope. The fourth station will include an empty coconut shell cut in half. The fifth station will have a tuning fork and a shallow dish of water. The sixth and final station will have a funnel shaped object attached to a long rubber tube.
  2. Give students a handout to chart the intensity or loudness of the sounds at each station.
  3. At the first station, have students explore the sounds that the two glass jars make when tapped with a spoon. Ask students why they think the two jars sound different. Make a connection to the sound waves moving through liquid and gas. Ask students if they think it is easier for a sound wave to move through a liquid, like water, or a gas, like air. Have students chart the intensity of the sounds at this station.
  4. At the second station, have students listen to the sound the metal hanger makes when it collides with something like a desk leg or the wall. Have students place the two ends of the string attached to the hanger next to their ears and listen again while the hanger bumps up against something. Have students describe the sounds both times and compare the two sounds that they hear. The first should sound soft and the second should sound dramatic, more like a church bell clanging. Explain to students that the sound waves move up the string to their ears, and thus the energy is transferred through the solid string. Have students chart the sound intensity.
  5. At the third station have students listen to their heart in the stethoscope. Have students describe what they hear, and based on what they know, ask them why they think the stethoscope magnifies the sound. Make a connection to how a stethoscope gathers sound and sends it through the tube. This is also a good opportunity to talk about how talk about the function of the heart. You can also have students listen to themselves breathing. Depending on the grade level, you may want to explore the connection to the body in depth. Have students record their observations about what they hear.
  6. The fourth station has the coconut shell cut in half. Have students tap the coconut shell halves against the floor or against one another. The sound should resemble that of a horse galloping. Have students take a sheet of paper and place it between the two halves. If the coconut shells are rubbed back and forth, the effect should be a sound that is similar to walking through snow. Explain to students what is going on: the coconut shells are hollow and therefore the sound waves bounce around inside them. The transformation of the energy goes from the person holding the coconut shells, to the coconut shells, and into the air as a sound. Experimenting making different sounds with the coconuts. Have students write their observations and chart the sounds.
  7. At the fifth station, students will use a tuning fork to see how sound waves move through the air. With a shallow dish of water, the sound waves exerted from the trembling tuning fork should make ripples on the surface of the water. Have students strike the tuning fork on their knee, listen to the sound, and watch the water ripple. This is a great visual of how sound waves are created by energy. Have students observe and chart this activity.
  8. At the sixth station students will observe how sound can be captured in a funnel and travel through a tube. Have one student stand at the funnel and the other at the end of the tube. Have the student standing by the funnel whisper quietly into the funnel. The person standing at the tube end should be able to hear the person at the funnel end clearly. Have students record their observations and chart the sound intensity.

Potential pitfalls

One potential pitfall for the experiment is that the students can hold the strings from the hanger part of the experiment or (during the funnel part of the experiment) hold the tube from the funnel too close to their ear. This can potentially cause damage to their ears and hearing. Make sure they don't directly place the strings or funnel in their ears. Another potential pitfall could be that some students may have a hard time hearing in general, which could make it hard for them to participate. We would need to make accomodations to include students if they are hard of hearing.

Math connections

Students will be able to chart how loud the noises that they hear from the experiment.

Literature connections

Cobb, Vicki. 2003. Perk Up Your Ears. Millbrook Press.

This book teaches students about their auditory sense. It also prepares the students to begin doing experiments with sound. It explains about what goes on inside the ear when we hear things. Students investigate sound conduction, perception of pitch, echolocation, and range of hearing.

Connections to educational standards

7.1 Inquiry, Experimentation, and Theory:

  • b. Use reliable information obtained from scientific knowledge, observation, and exploration.
  • e. Explain a variety of observations and phenomena using concepts that have been learned.
  • i. Work individually and in teams to collect and share information and ideas.

Next steps

Students should be able to make the connection between the funnel and tube activity and the use of a "string telephone." A string telephone is made by attaching a string between two aluminum cans, or cups. When one cup is spoken into, the sound waves from the sound travels along the string to the other can or cup. Also, the string could represent the hanger activity too, as the clang fromt he hanger travel up the string to make a loud noise. This is also realted to the "string telephone." Students may also have a sound traveling device on their playground. Students should be reminded that these things relate to this lesson. This activity could be extended by using such things.

Citations and links


Idea for hanger sound wave experiment were found here. The children's pages on this site also show how students can be creative and safe online.


Ideas for coconut and funnel experiments were found here.


This site provides a simple description of the parts of the ear and their functions.


After we did this experiment once, we were able to discuss our experiment and figure out ways to make it better. The first trial ran very smoothly as the hands on trials with sounds waves kept the kids very interested in the experiment. Switching stations to different activities of the sounds waves also kept them engaged and new activities regularly which kept a good attention span on the experiment on hand. We received helpful information from their teacher also, on ways to make our handouts better. Including a picture of the "material" we are using helps children to see what it actually is, incase they do not actually know the word. Another important part of what happened in our experiment is one girl who we worked with was deaf in one of her ears. This caught us by surprise but we were able to work through it and she enjoyed the experiment just like all of her other classmates. Overall, our experiment was a success and we hope the next time we use it will be just as successful!