by Valerie Joyner
What better way to start the school year than with a science investigation? It’s a great tool to set the tone for a year full of science and at the same time help students get to know each other. One of my favorite first day of school science investigations is a sound wave activity I call “Chiming Spoons.” It only requires a ball of string, a few items from your kitchen and/or classroom, and some simple preparation. The end result will be a classroom full of enthusiastic young scientists who acquire a new understanding of sound.
Science background: Sounds travels in waves. These waves can travel through everything from air, water, and wood, to along a piece of string. When a piece of string is tied to a metal object like a spoon and struck, the spoon will send out vibrations (sound waves) that will move along the string. If the string and the spoon are touched to your ears the vibrations that are made will travel up the string and into your ears. From your ears, nerves carry the message to your brain where it interprets the sound for you.
Objects made of different materials like stainless steel, wood, and plastic send out different vibrations (sound waves) and make different sound.
1 ball of string – 2 feet of string for every object
1 large metal spoon for demonstration
1 pencil for every pair of students
20+ objects from around the kitchen or classroom including but not limited to:
Stainless steel, silver, aluminum, and wooden spoons or forks of various sizes, metal cookie cooling rack,
coat hangers (plastic and metal),
hand mixer beaters
any other metal objects from your classroom,
Several trays or tables to distribute objects with strings around the room
Pencil and paper for recording observations
- Tie a large metal spoon in the middle of one piece of string (for demonstration)
- Tie string to all additional objects (for student discovery)
- Put some stringed objects on each tray and set aside
Explain to the students that they will be working with a partner to explore sound and how it travels. The first thing they will do is watch a pair of classmates demonstrate how the activity works, then they will work with a partner to make their own observations and discoveries.
Have a partner pair do the following steps.
1. Take a large metal spoon that has been tied in the center of the string.
2. Wrap each end of the string once or twice around the tip of each index finger and pinch the string.
3. Bring your fingers up to your ears as if you were plugging them.
4. Lean your body forward as shown. Make sure the string dangles freely and does not touch anything.
5. Have your partner gently tap the spoon once.
6. Observe the sound and share your observations with the class. (What did you hear? What did it feel like?)
1. Distribute trays or objects around the room
2. Assign pairs of students to work together
3. Remind students of the procedure
4. Explain that they will draw a picture or write a description of one or more of the objects they try and what they observed (dependent on grade level).
5. Release student pairs to work on the activity and record their observations.
6. Help students who need assistance with the procedure.
7. Walk among the students to encourage investigation and record keeping.
8. When students have observed several objects have students put the objects down and get ready to discuss their observations with the class.
1. Gather the students together and ask them to share what they observed.
2. Encourage students to share comparisons of their objects, its size, material, and the sounds they made. For example: When we hit the large silver spoon it sounded like a bell, and when we hit the plastic spoon it made a clunking sound.
3. As students share out their observations and comparisons encourage them to form conclusions. For example: I noticed that all of the plastic objects did not make a ringing sound, and some of the metal objects did (stainless steel v/s aluminum spoons).
4. Record student shared information.
5. Check for understanding by reviewing the Science Background.
Valerie Joyner is a retired elementary science teacher and is the CSTA’s region 1 director.
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Responses from Readers:
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