Modeling a 5E Lesson Sequence through Sound Energy

With a “Next Generation Science Methods” course in full swing, Wendy Pavlicek and I wanted to tackle what a “Next Generation Classroom” feels like and looks like early on by modeling a 5E experience for our PD cohort of K-5 teachers. Given the real life time constraints of both our PD time and classroom schedules, we thought long and hard about how to deliver an authentic experience that could be used as a reference point moving forward. Given that Light and Sound are science units currently taught at Grades 1, 3, and 5 in Burlington, we decided to follow a 5E lesson sequence through sound vibrations.

Upon introducing each phase, Wendy and I highlighted the 5E stage’s “do’s and don’ts,” emphasizing both teacher and student actions that could be taken that align with the goals of the 5E sequence. You can flip through the presentation shared above to see slides used in each of the 5 stages.


5E recommends teachers start with an engaging lesson that “generates interest and curiosity.” For our teachers we started with a video called “Cymatics” by Nigel Stanford available on YouTube. Cymatics is the visualization of sound waves. Don’t tell me it doesn’t capture your curiosity! From here our teachers asked questions and shared what they (thought) they already knew about sound energy and vibrations.


To model the explore stage we had teachers work at four different tables, using some of the equipment commonly shared in their sound kits to model sound vibrations and how sound travels differently through different mediums. At one table were different length tuning forks and dishes of water. Table two: rubber band guitars. Table three: “hanger gongs,” coat hangers with string tied on both ends that could be held up to student ears, sending a surprising “gong” sound through the strings to the ear drum! And at table four were music boxes that could be played either in hand, or on a table top. In all cases simple instructions were provided for basic exploration and the direction to observe the sound and how it changed when the tools were struck, strummed, or used differently.


After each group was given the opportunity to explore, we circled around the room, encouraging our teachers to explain their sound observations in their own words. Many used science vocabulary, others did not which was a great opportunity to emphasize how important it was for teachers not to immediately introduce science vocabulary, but to allow explanations to develop organically before providing a word that could be used in place of an otherwise wordy or cumbersome explanation. Teachers shared how their tuning forks appeared to create small waves in their water dishes. Others shared how the sound’s “pitch” or “volume” changed depending on how the rubber band was plucked, or whether they listened to the music box while their ear was on the table or right next to the music box.


With some discussion and recording of our observations we were ready to throw a challenge on our teachers using their previously constructed knowledge and observations. Teachers are typically familiar with string telephones. We added a challenge component of constructing the “best” string telephone using a variety of different strings, cups, and fasteners for teachers to try out and compare with other teachers’ creations.


Checking out the materials for string telephones.

Teachers were expected to plan a string telephone set with the materials provided. Once the plan was checked out they moved forward, constructing the string telephone and comparing it with other students models. Data and assessment of their string telephones was primarily qualitative, with teachers comparing with one another to see which seemed to pass their sounds better. Ultimately many teachers realized that, while the strict that was tightly wound and of “middle” size seemed to work best, the real factor on whether a telephone worked or not was whether the line was taught, emphasizing the importance of having a medium that could transmit vibrations.


Can you hear me now?


There was not much time for an evaluate phase in class but that was ok. At the grade three level teachers ask students to create their own instruments that produce different pitches and kinds of sounds based on how they are played. Third grade teachers who were present shared their experiences with this performance-based assessment before adjourning for the day! While there were many things Wendy and I would like to improve about this PD experience (namely, the amount of time!) we were pleased with how engaged and enthused our teachers were and how well they connected with the lesson sequence and the science!

About Sean Musselman

Teacher Dad and Burlington MA Schools K-5 Science and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator. NSTA Professional Development facilitator and author of "Think Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate" NSTA Kids ebook.
This entry was posted in Professional Development and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s