Hands-on Activity Let Your Ears Do the Walking

Quick Look

Grade Level: 5 (4-6)

Time Required: 45 minutes

Expendable Cost/Group: US $2.00

Group Size: 2

Activity Dependency:

Subject Areas: Data Analysis and Probability, Life Science, Science and Technology

NGSS Performance Expectations:

NGSS Three Dimensional Triangle

A bluish underwater photo shows swimming dolphins.
Studenta experience echolation
Copyright © 2004 Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052-6399 USA. All rights reserved. http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/results.aspx?qu=dolphin&ex=1#ai:MP900262825|mt:2|


Students experience a simulation of echolation, using the sensory method to walk along a path while blindfolded. This relates to the issue of bycatching by fisheries, which they learned about in the associated lesson. Bycatching affects marine animals, especially dolphins, which use echolocation to identify the location of objects in the water, but have difficulty identifying nets, and thus are often caught accidentally. Students learn how echolocation works, why certain animals use it to determine the size, shape and distance of objects, and how humans can potentially take advantage of dolphins' echolocation ability when developing bycatch avoidance methods.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

After learning how echolocation works, students discuss how net designs can be made easier for dolphins to "see" using echolocation and thus less likely for dolphins to result in entanglement. This is an example of how engineers are inspired by nature in their designs. For instance, sonar and radar are technologies that utilize the concept of echolocation.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Describe how difficult it can be to use only the sense of hearing to perceive their environment.
  • Explain how echolocation works.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

4-LS1-2. Use a model to describe that animals' receive different types of information through their senses, process the information in their brain, and respond to the information in different ways. (Grade 4)

Do you agree with this alignment?

Click to view other curriculum aligned to this Performance Expectation
This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Use a model to test interactions concerning the functioning of a natural system.

Alignment agreement:

Different sense receptors are specialized for particular kinds of information, which may be then processed by the animal's brain. Animals are able to use their perceptions and memories to guide their actions.

Alignment agreement:

A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions.

Alignment agreement:

  • The use of technology affects the environment in good and bad ways. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Models are used to communicate and test design ideas and processes. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Explain how various relationships can exist between technology and engineering and other content areas. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Use decimal notation for fractions with denominators 10 or 100. (Grade 4) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation. (Grade 6) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Understand the effects of environmental changes, adaptations and behaviors that enable animals (including humans) to survive in changing habitats. (Grade 4) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Explain how animals meet their needs by using behaviors in response to information received from the environment. (Grade 4) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Summarize evidence that Earth's oceans are a reservoir of nutrients, minerals, dissolved gases, and life forms:
    • Estuaries
    • Marine ecosystems
    • Upwelling
    • Behavior of gases in the marine environment
    • Deep ocean technology and understandings gained
    (Grade 8) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

  • 1 blindfold per student
  • large empty room
  • masking tape, to mark paths on the floor

Pre-Req Knowledge

An understanding of data collection, calculating fractions/proportions, analyzing data.


If you had to figure out the location, shape, size and texture of an object without using your sense of sight, how would you do this? (Have students brainstorm different ideas, while you take notes on the classroom board.)

How do other animals do this? (Lead a discussion on how dolphins and other animals use echolocation as a method of navigation and "sight.")

(Then proceed to conduct the activity, in which students simulate echolocation to see how well it allows them to use their sense of sound to navigate without using their sense of sight.)


Before the Activity

Tape small straight-line paths on the floor for the kids to follow. Make multiple paths so a number of students can participate simultaneously.

With the Students

  1. Have students group into pairs.
  2. Blindfold one student in each pair and have the blindfolded student stand at the start of the path while the other student continues ahead on the path.
  3. For the blindfolded student to determine where to walk, have him/her say "Marco," while the partner student responds with "Polo." If s/he pays close attention to where the sound comes from, the blindfolded student is able to accurately follow the path.


Pre-Activity Assessment: Following the echolocation lesson, make sure that students understand the basic principles of echolocation. Encourage them to discuss their opinions on bycatching and how echolocation may be part of the solution.

Post-Activity Assessment: Assign students to write journal entries to describe their reaction to this activity and what they discovered while navigating with only the sense of sound. Have them relate this to bycatching and how humans can take advantage of sea animals' echolocation abilities when developing bycatch avoidance methods.

Investigating Questions

  • Did you find it easy or hard to determine where you were going and how far?
  • What would have made the process easier?

Safety Issues

While blindfolded, have students walk fairly slowly and be careful of their surroundings.

Troubleshooting Tips

Watch that students do not shout too loudly, since it might disturb other groups or classes.

Activity Extensions

"Echolocation and SONAR: Sound Rather than Sight" from https://exploresound.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Echolocation-Indoors.pdf


Get the inside scoop on all things TeachEngineering such as new site features, curriculum updates, video releases, and more by signing up for our newsletter!
PS: We do not share personal information or emails with anyone.

More Curriculum Like This

Upper Elementary Lesson
Radar: Using Sound for Sight

Students use these concepts to understand how dolphins use echolocation to locate prey, escape predators, navigate their environment, such as avoiding gillnets set by commercial fishing vessels. Students also learn that dolphin sounds are vibrations created by vocal organs, and that sound is a type ...

Upper Elementary Activity
Echolocation Experimentation: Can You Hear It?

Students drop marbles into holes cut into shoebox lids and listen carefully to try to determine the materials inside the box that the marbles fall onto, illustrating the importance of surface composition on dolphins' abilities to sense materials, depth and texture using echolocation.

Upper Elementary Unit
All Caught Up: Bycatching and Design

Through this curricular unit, students analyze the significance of bycatch in the global ecosystem and propose solutions to help reduce bycatch. They become familiar with current attempts to reduce the fishing mortality of these animals. Through the associated activities, the challenges faced today ...

Upper Elementary Lesson
Caught in the Net: Bycatch vs.Target Species in Ocean Fishing

In this lesson, students are shown pictures of entangled marine animals and then learn the definition of bycatch. This leads to discussions on why bycatching exists, how it impacts specific animals as well as humans, whether the students believe it is an important issue, and how bycatch can be reduc...


How Echolocation Works. http://members.aol.com/bats4kids/echo.htm

"Echolocation Lab" by Donald Mills. http://www.accessexcellence.org/AE/AEC/AEF/1995/mills_echo.html

"Discovery of Sound in the Sea: Teacher Resources and Web Links." http://www.dosits.org/dosits.htm


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2004 Duke University


Angela Jiang, Pratt School of Engineering; Matt Nusnbaum, Pratt School of Engineering; Aruna Venkatesan, Pratt School of Engineering; Vicki Thayer, Nicholas School of the Environment; Amy Whitt, Nicholas School of the Environment

Supporting Program

Engineering K-PhD Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University


This content was developed by the MUSIC (Math Understanding through Science Integrated with Curriculum) Program in the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. DGE 0338262. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: February 12, 2020

Free K-12 standards-aligned STEM curriculum for educators everywhere.
Find more at TeachEngineering.org