Mic Check: Teaching the science of Sound

This week I’m teaching 1st graders what sound ‘looks’ like.

I don’t think most elementary school students stop to consider what sound really involves, whenever they download an MP3 file, or speak into a cordless microphone. (We teachers use simple cordless mics in class, and I occasionally hand off the mic to a student.)

One way is to show students what a sound wave is, and describe frequency and pitch. But how to turn the theory into something practical? I thought about this and began to use four different types of speaker-mic combinations to record something in class.

Four technologies

1. I start with the one device any young person could relate to – a cell phone. The mic is often hidden, but it picks up a lot. Some phones have a recording feature which is great.

2. The lanyard microphone in class. No recording feature, but it gives us an opportunity to talk about how the sound wave travels, wirelessly, across the room and gets amplified by the speaker.

3. A pocket digital recorder. I always carry one around in a satchel, from my podcasting days. I do a quick demo (10 seconds max!) with a student – usually the one who is disruptive, or… the exemplary listener! Gives me an opportunity to talk of why the recorded voice sounds tinny, but crisp.

Microphone - Dynex4. Finally, the old corded microphone. Funny how something slightly ‘old-school,’ with a very long cord nonetheless, amazes them. I show them how it works with a PC, using the very rudimentary Windows recorder. If you could download Audacity, that would open up a whole new sidebar discussion on digital dashboards…

In the next 15 minutes I record each of the 18 students, and if we have time playback their voices.

Next week I’m going to let them come up with a basic script, and read it as if they were reading a news story. There’s something about sitting a digitally saturated kid in front of a corded goose-neck microphone that gets fired up about the science of sound.

If you like to try this, depending on the grade level, you could supplement it with these steps:

  • Video the session from start to finish, so it could be used as a tutorial for another class.
  • Add a writing component. Get the class to work on a short (3-minute would suffice) ‘radio play’ with basic sound effects. I know plenty of places where to find podsafe music and sound effects. Now look at the wave forms for different sounds. Horses hooves, baby crying, door creaking, a cough…
  • Play back each skit on Audacity, and get them to see how they might combine sounds. Adjust the pitch, and frequency, so the sound effect sounds are enhanced, and even funny!

Sometimes, being a S-T-E-M focused class,  I wish I could have a 90-minute class, instead of a mere 40 minute segment. But hey, they’ve got to get to the other  Specials – like Music!


2 thoughts on “Mic Check: Teaching the science of Sound

  1. Pingback: Audio Time Capsule for Digital Learning day « Voices On!

  2. Pingback: Radio – not too ‘old school’ for digital natives « Voices On!

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