4 Groovy Activities to Teach about Vibration and Sound Energy

Most STEMists learn to appreciate vibrations as an infant when they hear their first lullaby.  And, many learn to love singing children’s songs with the accompaniment of maracas, drums and triangles in preschool and elementary school. But, do STEMists completely understand the energy of sound vibration— how we are able to hear and feel sound?
4 Groovy Activities to Teach about Vibration and Sound Energy
Sound is more than noise; it is energy.  A groovy way to teach your STEMists about sound is by listening and seeing sound waves through simple activities that demonstrate the three characteristics of sound: pitch, volume and frequency.

Here are four activities you can do with your STEMists to learn about the energy of sound vibration, and how it can be seen and heard.

Humming a Tune

Have your STEMists place their fingers on their throat and hum their favorite song. Or, ask your STEMists to hum a tune through a kazoo. Ask them to discuss what they feel. Then explain they are feeling the vibrations of their vocal chords, which vibrate to make sound. The vibrations you feel when you hum are how we make and hear sound.

Fun with a Tuning Fork

Fun with a Tuning Fork

You will need a tuning fork (available from any musical instrument store) and ping pong ball. Strike a tuning fork and place one of its tines against ping pong ball. Discuss sound waves and what happened to the ping pong ball. Why did it move? Talk with your STEMists about the changes in vibration in relation to the changes in sound.

Sounding Off with a Spatula

All you need for this activity is a metal spatula.  Lay the spatula on a table or student’s desk with its handle extended over the side.  Ask your STEMists to pull the handle down. Then, discuss what happens when they let it go.  Do they see or hear anything?  Talk about the characteristics of sound, and the similarity between the vibrations of the spatula and the vibrations of your vocal chords when you talk.

Boom Box

This activity requires a boom box, paper plate, small pieces of paper and balloons.  Blow up a balloon and hold it in front of a boom box speaker.  Then, turn up the volume and observe.  Next, place a paper plate that holds small pieces of paper on top and place it on top of the boom box.  Discuss sound energy and what happens when you turn up the volume.

Note: Remind students that loud noises can damage their ears, especially when playing loud music – whether it’s through a boom box or earphones from your iPhone!

Below are some definitions for STEMists to learn as they go through the above sound energy activities:

  • Vibration – The back and forth movement of an object; Sound is made by vibrations that are usually too fast to see.
  • Sound Energy – Audible energy that is released when playing music, talking or a clap of thunder. As explained by Exploresound.org, “Sound is produced when an object vibrates. Near the vibrating surface, air follows that surface and the air molecules begin to vibrate, or oscillate. These oscillations spread from one molecule to the next, and a sound wave moves outward from the vibrating surface.”
  • Sound Wave – A longitudinal pressure wave of audible or inaudible sound.
  • Wave – A disturbance that travels through a medium, such as air or water.

Three Properties of Sound:

  1. Volume – how loud a sound is, a measure of amplitude
  2. Pitch – how high or low a sound is in relation to wavelength and frequency
  3. Frequency– how fast a sound wave is moving (high frequency = short wavelength = high pitch)

Let your STEMists join in the fun of more learning about sound and vibrations with this month’s music-themedGood Vibrations” Groovy Lab in a Box.  Order yours today!