Physical science: Sound Unit Creation


The information in this article steps through the creation of a science unit for the topic of sound.

Decide on a topic

The topic was selected by the students, among other topics, for them to investigate and learn about during the year. Sound is also a topic inlcuded in the school curriculum and would require some investigation if it weren't selected by students, but not as much time might have been invested.

Later, as it approached the time to study sound students were interviewed to collect more information.

Interview students -
to generate questions they have about sound.

The questions were written pretty much as students asked them. The only assitance given by the teacher was to mention the word pitch when students seemed to want more than different sounds on the list.

When the teacher researched and organized the activities to if the activities would provide observations and information to answer their questions, he was stumped with how they might answer the question: how fast does sound travel? Would they need stop watches and computers to measure, or what?

However, when I turned it back to the students we decided to design an experiment to see if light or sound were faster. They took a power strip with multiple sockets and an on/off switch, plugged a light and instant-on radio into it and turned them on at the same time. Inside not much difference. Solution go outside, increase the distance. Eventually across the football field and satisfaction.

This experiment took a lot longer to complete than described above. The students did not think of a power strip or an instant on radio when they started. Neither did they increase the distance in one big jump. It took them multiple attempts and sometimes overnight before we over came unsuccessful attempts.

This activity was not planned, therefore, is not included in the unit plan.

facts, concepts, relationships, and generalizations related to sound
For the different dimensions of science

Science dimensions Concepts, relationships, & generalizations
Unifying concepts and processes -
Systems, order, and organization
  • Musical instruments can be thought of as a system.
  • Sound as order by its properties for all sounds with the same.
  • Pitch is organized in music as scales.
Evidence, models, and explanations
  • Explain how the variables of sound affect the properties of sound.
  • Collect evidence of vibrations.
Change, constancy, and measurement
  • Change of sound by properties.
  • Measure sound by decibels...
  • Volume decreases as energy dissipates.
  • Constancy between the material and the sounds it makes.
Evolution and equilibrium
  • Vibrations start from a point of equilibriium, vibrate relative to the vibration that sets them in motion and then vibrates until reaching equilibrium again.
Form and function Form of musical instruments affects the sound or function.
Science as Inquiry
  • Inquire as to what are the properties of sound and what variables will affect their change.
  • Inquire how to build a musical instrument.
Physical Science Sound properties: vibration, pitch, volume,
Life Science Identify sounds in nature
Earth Science Identify sounds earth materials make.
Technology Create a musical instrument and explain its production and processes used to make it better.
Personal and Social
  • Individuals will select and create their own instrument.
  • Safety with ears and loud noise
  • Groups will work together to play a musical selection.
  • Class will share what they learn and create.
History and Nature of Science Science can be used to understand sound and hearing.
  • I can learn about the world.
  • I have fun learning about the world.


Collected Possible Activities for the Sound Unit

Tuning Fork Activities:

Materials: Two tuning forks of different size and a beaker

Tuning fork - Activity 1

  1. Hit the tuning fork against the bottom of your shoe
  2. Position it near your ear
  3. What do you observe?
  4. Hit the tuning fork again
  5. Touch it against your earlobe
  6. What happens?
  7. Fill the beaker 2/3 full with water
  8. Hit the tuning fork and touch its tips to the surface of the water
  9. What happens?
  10. What does the tuning fork do when it makes sound?

Tuning fork - Activity 2

  1. Hit the tuning fork and hold it near your ear
  2. Count how long you can hear the sound
  3. Hold the open end of the beaker over your ear
  4. Hit the tuning fork and place the handle on the bottom of the beaker
  5. Observe
  6. How did the beaker effect the sound energy?
  7. Do the same type of experiment only place the handle of the tuning fork onto the top of a desk or table
  8. Observe
  9. How did the table effect the sound energy?
  10. Have students describe the above observations.

Tuning fork - Activity 3

  1. Hit the large tuning fork and bring it close to your ear
  2. Observe.
  3. Now repeat the procedure with a smaller tuning fork
  4. Observe
  5. How do the different pitches compare
  6. What relationship do you think there is between mass and pitch?

Rubber Band Activities:

Materials: ruler, pencil, rubber bands of differing thickness, plastic or metal rectangular containers

Rubber Band - Activity 1

  1. Stretch a rubber band and have someone on your team strum it
  2. Observe the pitch
  3. Repeat the activity only stretch the rubber band further
  4. Strum it again
  5. How does the tightness affect the pitch?

Rubber Band - Activity 2

  1. Stretch a rubber band across a ruler
  2. Strum the rubber band
  3. Compare the pitch of the sound produced to that of a rubber band stretched the same length but strummed in the air
  4. What is the difference?

Rubber Band - Activity 3

  1. Stretch the rubber band across a small container and strum
  2. Observe the sound
  3. Stretch a rubber band across a container that is the same except deeper
  4. Compare the sounds.

Rubber Band - Activity 4

  1. Stretch two rubbers bands that are the same length and thickness, but different widths across a container.
  2. Strum one of the rubber bands
  3. How can you make it softer?
  4. How can you make it louder?
  5. Predict how the pitch of the wide one will compare to the pitch of the narrow one
  6. Try it
  7. What did you observe?

Rubber Band - Activity 5

  1. Stretch two rubber bands of the same length and width but different thickness across a container
  2. Predict which rubber band will make the highest pitch
  3. Try it
  4. What did you discover?
  5. Put eight rubber bands across a container to make an eight note scale
  6. Make a push pin guitar

Pop Bottle or Test Tube Activities:

Materials: pop bottles, medicine droppers, pencil

  1. Blow across the mouth of an empty pop bottle
  2. What sound do you hear?
  3. What is happening to produce this sound?
  4. Add water to the bottle until it is 1/4 full
  5. Blow over the mouth
  6. What sound do you get now?
  7. Try different amounts of water
  8. How did the amount of water effect the pitch of the sound?
  9. Blow gently. Blow hard. What is the difference?
  10. Use eight bottles and use a medicine dropper to add water to produce notes of a musical scale.
  11. Pop bottle or test tube flute

Straw Activities:

Materials: straws and scissors

Straw - Activity 1

1. Take a plastic straw and flatten the end about two centimeters

2. Cut the two sides of the flattened portion so it looks like the drawing below

sound1 image

3. To play the straw instrument put the cut end into your mouth so that your teeth are pressing the straw on the top and bottom at a point just beyond where you cut and with both slits parallel with your teeth.

sound2 image

4. If you press your teeth together slightly and blow you should be able to get a buzzing sound.

Straw - Activity 2

  1. Make a second straw instrument and compare the sounds made by the two
  2. How does the size effect the pitch?
  3. How does blowing hard or soft effect the sound?
  4. Take one of the instruments and while blowing a steady sound cut off some of the length
  5. How does this effect the pitch?
  6. What relationship is there between the length of the air column and the pitch?
  7. Explain how this effect will change the pitch of a musical instrument
  8. Select a musical instrument and draw a picture of it below
  9. Show how the air flows through it to get different pitches
  10. Flute - tape several straws of different lengths together
  11. Straw oboe

Straw - Activity 3

Water and air trombone - Cut a straw one inch from the top end about three-quarters of the way through. Bend and blow through the short end while you move the other end up and down in a glass of water. For an air trombone pinch different lengths of the straw.

 strawTrombone image

Tube Kazoo Activity:

Materials: cardboard tube, rubber band, square piece of wax paper, pencil

  1. Stretch the wax paper tightly across one end of the tube and hold it in place with the rubber band
  2. Punch a small hole in the middle of the tube with a pencil
  3. Make a humming or "ooing" sound into the open end of the tube

Animal Quackers In A Can Activity:

Materials: Tin can with one end, paper clip, 50 cm piece of string, medium nail

  1. Use the nail to punch a small hole in the bottom center of the lid
  2. Thread the string through the hole and tie it securely to the paper clip
  3. Hold the can with one hand and use your thumb and forefinger on your other hand and hold the string tightly up near the can
  4. Slid your fingers along the string and the can should make an animal like sound

Stereophonic Hanger & Gong Activity:

Materials: Two paper cups or plastic cups, two paper clips, two 50 cm pieces of string, and wire coat hanger

  1. Punch a small hole in the bottom center of each cup
  2. Fasten the string to the cups with the paper clip
  3. Tie the other end of the string to the coat hanger
  4. Hold the cups to your ears while you strike the hanger

 hanger phone image

 Hanger Gong Activity:

Materials: Coat hanger, spoons, and string

  1. Tie the spoons to the coat hanger with the string
  2. Hear and feel the vibrations from the spoons

Talking Balloons Activity:

  1. Materials: one balloon for each group
  2. Blow-up the balloon and hold it shut
  3. What do you hear? Nothing
  4. Squeeze the end of the balloon and listen
  5. What do you hear? Squeeeeeek
  6. What makes the squeeeeeeek?
  7. Our vocal cords analogy

Sound Chamber Activity:

Materials: Box or poster board to make a sound chamber.

  1. Sound chamber is a box or poster board in a cylinder shape with the bottom open to the table
  2. Objects are dropped in the chamber so a student can not see the object and then identifies the sound made by the object hitting the table
  3. Students can be use a sorting mat to sort identical objects in the order dropped
  4. After all the dropping is done the two students can compare their sorting mats

Pitch And Music Activity:

Students will move their body in response to pitch in music of a song

Students will illustrate a drawing in response to pitch in music of a song

Phone Conductors Activity:

Materials: Plastic cups, string, yarn, fish string, metal wire, paper clips, and a medium sized nail

  1. Use the nail to punch a hole in the bottom center of two cups
  2. Use the paper clip to fasten one end of the string to each end of the cup
  3. Talk on the phone
  4. Devise an experiment to test which of the materials makes a better phone

Match student questions to activities

Through what does sound travel?

From where does sound come?

Any activity with sound - vibrations.

How do we make different sounds?

How do we make different pitches?

What makes loud sound? Too loud?

How do you show sounds?

What is the speed of sound?

Sound speed experiment

How do we identify sounds?

Create a sequence and possile class time

Day one: Inside/outside sounds. Walk, identify and classify sounds.

Day two: Sound chamber activity

Day three: Pitch and music activity

Day four: Talking balloons, rubber bands, and animal quackers in a can

Day five: Tuning fork activities, long gong activity above and below water, and talk through a balloon activity

Day six: Phone conductors activity

Day seven: Review the inside and outside chart from day one. Ask students to identify what makes the sound? How could the pitch be changed? How could the volume be changed?

Day eight and nine: Sound centers with activities for instruments.

Day ten: Band day

Collect information to combine into a unit and start writing

Unit Topic - Sound

Grade: 2-4

Date: August 1993

Author - Dr. Robert D. Sweetland


Science is inquiry about the universe. It is the creation of skills of inquiry and scientific generalizations about the physical objects, living organisms, earth and space around us and an understanding of their many relationships. Through our personal inquiries and the study of other scientist's inquiries we create a disposition for science as well as an understanding about the nature of science, its history, its personal and social perspectives, and its relationships to engineering.

This inquiry begins with children as they naturally explore their environment. Their explorations help them develop inquiry skills, create knowledge about their world and an attitude for exploration. In school the teacher continues to facilitate this development with learning experiences where students are actively involved in inquiry and communication about that inquiry in a community of science learners. This involvement begins with engaging activities that allow students to focus, reflect, and assess what they know as they explore new and different ideas. During their exploration they will experience familiar and unfamiliar information which they will try to categorize with their existing understanding or use to construct new understanding.

To assist this construction they will negotiate its meaning with themselves, other students, and the teacher until they are comfortable with their way of knowing. To push their understanding to its limits further questioning and or investigations will help them to translate and extend their understandings.

Students must have a significant amount of success in a risk free and nourishing environment to sustain their curiosity and translate it to a love of learning and science. As students engage in these hands on investigation, both teacher and student initiated, the teacher must integrate all dimensions of science. To do so will help students understand the nature of what science is, how it has been developed over the years, its effect on society and society's effect on it, how it relates to them personally, its relationship to engineering, as well the process of science practices and how it helps us understand our world. Anything less will not prepare students as citizens of tomorrow.


This unit includes hands-on activities for students to conceptualize concepts about the properties of sound, the practice of science as inquiry, and the relationship of science and engineering. The activities will allow students to make individual choices based on their present understanding. This choice will personalize student learning to allow all students the opportunity to succeed at their developmental level and encourage positive attitudes.

Students will experiment in small groups, predict and record properties of sound. Students will think as scientists as they observe different sounds, classify sounds, make a variety of instruments, identify properties of sound, and play their instruments. Students will use their instruments to apply the concepts of sound, which they have conceptualized, by describing and demonstrating how parts of the instruments vibrate to produce sound, change volume and change pitch. As students construct their instruments they will learn how science and engineering are related as well as how the practice and processes of science are related.


Sound is an important part of our world. We are surrounded by it nearly every minute of the day. It is an essential part of our lives. Without it we would be limited in our ability to communicate and would not enjoy many of the sounds in our world. Many children, and possibly many adults, either take sound for granted or otherwise just simply do not understand it.

Educated citizens are informed of the qualities of sound its benefits and its harmful effects. For example, by knowing how sound travels and the ear works we can improve the quality of listening and protect our hearing. Children that study sound can learn to better understand the world in which they live, make intelligent decisions, and better appreciate the world around them.

Time Allotted

10, 50 minute sessions


Rulers, scissors, glue/tack, newspaper, cardboard, chalk board, wood, glasses, water, milk, rubber bands, crayons, magazine pictures, tape measure or meter stick, graph paper,

Prior Knowledge & Skills


  1. To enjoy science inquiry
  2. To learn properties of sound
  3. To appreciate sound
  4. To learn how to predict, inquire, and create technology
  5. To learn how technology and science are related.
  6. To apply the knowledge and experiences gained in class to everyday life situations

Unit motivational activity

Display pictures related to sound. Ask students what they would like to learn while studying sound. Have pictures of bands and other musical groups and hope they say form a band or group.

Unit culminating activity

Form a band and have the students play some selections. Have them describe the properties of sound relative to all their instruments.

Assessment Methods

Instrument Demonstration Check list

Standard Outcome Yes Comments
Personal / Social Play instrument for class and share science related ideas    
Explain why people make instruments    
Explain how sound gets to an ear    
System Identify subsystems of the instrument what makes the sound, increase volume, change pitch, quality    
Describe the functions of the different parts of the instrument as a subsystem of the instrument system    
Physical science
Demonstrate volume by explaining how to make the sound louder and softer for their instrument.    
Use their instrument to demonstrate and explain how to change the pitch.    
Engineering Describe how the instrument was made.    
Give a purpose for making the instrument.    
Tell how the instrument achieved the designed purposes.    
Tell how and why any changes in the design were made and the results.    
Tell what tools and materials were used for its creation.    


Scoring guide / Rubric


Creating lesson plans for each day

Day one: Inside/outside sounds. Walk, identify and classify sounds.

Day two: Sound chamber activity

Day three: Pitch and music activity

Day four: Talking balloons, rubber bands, and animal quackers in a can

Day five: Tuning fork activities, long gong activity above and below water, and talk through a balloon activity

Day six: Phone conductors activity

Day seven: Review the inside and outside chart from day one. Ask students to identify what makes the sound? How could the pitch be changed? How could the volume be changed?

Day eight and nine: Sound centers with activities for instruments.

Day ten: Band day


Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes