Students explore how sound waves move through liquids, solids and gases in a series of simple sound energy experiments. Understanding the properties of sound and how sound waves travel helps engineers determine the best room shape and construction materials when designing sound recording studios, classrooms, libraries, concert halls and theatres.
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 Standard Network (ASN), a project of JES & Co. (www.jesandco.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.
Click on the standard groupings to explore this hierarchy as it applies to this document.
- Colorado: Science
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- E. Models are used to communicate and test design ideas and processes. (Grades 3 - 5)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Generate and compare multiple solutions that use patterns to transfer information. (Grade 4)  ...show
- Explain that sound can move through solids, liquids and gases.
- Describe how sound needs molecules to move and that changing the medium that it travels through changes the sound.
- Describe how engineers use sound energy when designing spaces, such as movie theaters.
- A large bowl (metal works best)
- Two metal objects, such as spoons, to knock together
- Traveling Sound Worksheet, one per student
|Echo:||Repetition of a sound by reflection of sound waves from a surface.|
|Frequency:||The rate of vibrations in different pitches.|
|Pitch:||The highness or lowness of a sound.|
|Sound energy:||Audible energy that is released when you talk, play musical instruments or slam a door.|
|Sound wave:||A longitudinal pressure wave of audible or inaudible sound.|
|Vibration:||When something moves back and forth, it is said to vibrate. Sound is made by vibrations that are usually too fast to see.|
|Volume:||When sound becomes louder or softer.|
|Wave:||A disturbance that travels through a medium, such as air or water.|
Before the Activity
- Gather materials and make copies of the Traveling Sound Worksheet.
- Divide the class into teams of two students each.
With the Students
- Ask the students to predict if sound can move through solids, liquids and gases.
- Have the students complete the worksheet, which leads them through traveling sound wave activities.
- Can sound energy travel through solids? Students place their ears on a desk or table as they tap or scratch on the top. They compare that to the same sound made when their ear is not pressed to the table.
- Can sound energy traveling through liquids? Fill a large bowl or bucket (metal works best) with water. One student taps two spoons together under the water. Two other students observe and compare the tapping sound they hear, as heard through the air and as heard by placing an ear against the bowl.
- Can sound energy traveling through gases (air)? The students feel their throats gently during each of these tasks:
- Discuss with the students what happened. Were their predictions correct? Can sound travel through air, water and solids? (Answer: Yes!) Sound needs molecules to move. Solids, liquids and gases are all made of molecules. The characteristics of the molecules (for example, the space between the molecules) determine whether the sound becomes muffled or changes in some way.
- How might engineers use the knowledge that sound travels through solids, liquids and gases? (Possible answers: Engineers create devices that send sound anywhere — through water to a submarine in the ocean, through telephone wires to another town, and through the air in surround sound movie theaters or emergency broadcast signals.)
Activity Embedded Assessment
- What is an example of something through which sound can travel?
- For lower grades, conduct the activities as a class instead of in teams. Younger students could also draw pictures of their observations instead of writing in sentence form.
Dictionary.com. Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. Accessed December 19, 2005. (Source of some vocabulary definitions, with some adaptation.) http://www.dictionary.com
Sharon Perez, Natalie Mach, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Denise Carlson
© 2005 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: August 27, 2015