Section 2

Exploring sounds and music


Learning Outcomes:

By the end of this section, you will have:
  • used peer assessment with your pupils;
  • used resources from the local community to produce musical instruments with your pupils;
  • used practical activities to develop your pupils’ understanding of how to produce different sounds.

From a very early age, we respond to familiar sounds – a baby will respond to its mother’s or carer’s voice for example – and we learn new sounds very quickly. Your pupils will have learnt to recognise a large number of different sounds. In this section, you support your pupils’ developing ideas about sounds and how they are produced. The emphasis is on practical activities and active learning. Do you play an instrument yourself? Or know someone who could visit your classroom to play to your pupils? This section also explores ways for helping pupils to assess their own work. (See Key Resource: Assessing learning.) Being involved in assessment helps pupils understand their learning and set goals for future progress. It also builds self-confidence and enthusiasm for learning.

Page 1

It is always wise to start by finding out what pupils already know. Pupils will recognise many different sounds, but they probably haven’t considered different qualities of these sounds like pitch (low notes or high notes) and volume (loud or soft). In Activity 1, you play a guessing game with your pupils, where they try to identify sounds and explain how they think the sounds were made. This involves pupils scoring their own answers, one way of involving them in assessment. Don’t dismiss answers that seem incorrect – encourage pupils to explain their responses. You can learn much about their understanding from what they say. Afterwards, think about what they said – was there anything that surprised you? Case Study 1 shows how one teacher used a local story as a starting point for pupils’ questions about sound. Do you know any stories from your own culture that you could use? Or could you ask a member of the local community to visit your school to tell a story? Could one of your pupils tell a story?

Case Study 1: Using a folktale to start the topic ‘Sound’

Ms Sarpong, who teaches in South Africa, but comes from Nigeria, used a Nigerian folktale about a swallowing drum to introduce the topic ‘sound’ (see Resource 1: Sound story). When she told the story to her pupils, she beat three different-sized drums to demonstrate the ‘bim’, ‘bam’, ‘bom’ sounds of the drums in the story. After the storytelling, they discussed the sounds in the story and how they were made. Some groups investigated how drums make sound, by using grains of dry rice on the surface of the drums to see the vibrations. They also tried to get different sounds from the same drum. Other groups investigated what happened when they blew air over the tops of different sizes of empty plastic bottles. They made notes of what they found out, and later they shared what they had thought about and learned. Finally, they made a list of all the questions they had about sound and displayed it on the classroom wall. Ms Sarpong encouraged them to think of ways they could find out the answers for themselves.

Activity 1: A sound guessing game

Gather 10–12 different objects that make interesting noises – include both familiar and unusual sounds. You might include sounds recorded on a cellphone. Before pupils come to class, you will need to set up a screen to hide from view both the objects and the action that makes the sound.
  • Settle the pupils and explain what you have planned. Tell them that they will be expected to assess their responses honestly.
  • From behind the screen, make each sound in turn. Pupils need to write down how they think the sound is made.
  • At the end, show how each sound was made and pupils score the sounds they identified.
Finally, ask the pupils if all the sounds were equally easy to identify? How did they identify the more unfamiliar sounds? What clues helped them to identify the sounds?

Page 2

Sounds are made by vibrating objects. The vibrating object causes the air particles to move closer together (compress) and then apart in a regular pattern – this is called a sound wave (see Resource 2: Sound waves). Thus the air carries the sound to our ear. In Activity 2, you ask your pupils to use everyday objects to make sounds and see how they can change these sounds in different ways. The pupils should carry out this investigation in small groups. (See Key Resource: Using group work in your classroom.) Spend some time at the end of the investigation talking to your pupils about how the groups worked; do they have ideas about how they could work together more effectively in the future? In Case Study 2, a teacher uses an interesting set of questions to encourage pupils to think about their work – another way of involving them in assessment.

Case Study 2: Measuring how far sounds travel

Mrs Antwi organised her multigrade class into groups of six pupils of different ages. Each group was given some wooden blocks. She asked them to find out how far the sound of blocks clapped together travelled. Each group organised their own investigation. (See Key Resource: Using investigations in the classroom.) When they had planned their investigation and decided who would carry out each task, she let them work outside. Groups recorded results on a poster. After they had completed their investigations, Mrs Antwi gave them the following questions to discuss in their groups:
  • Did they get an accurate answer to the question (results)?
  • Were they happy with their data?
  • What would they do differently next time?
Mrs Antwi knew this was a good way of helping her pupils to reflect on their learning. The pupils came up with some excellent ideas, including that the wind varied and affected the results, not everyone’s hearing is the same and that other noises were distracting.

Activity 2: Exploring changing sounds

  • Organise your class into small groups to investigate ways to change the sounds made by a range of objects. Give each group one set of equipment – here are some ideas:
    • Use different-sized upturned tin cans as drums.
    • Fill five identical glass containers with different levels of water and tap them with a pencil.
    • Blow air over bottles of four different sizes.
    • Use four identical plastic bottles filled with different amounts of sand as shakers.
Pupils could also choose something for themselves.
  • Ask your pupils to think about and then carry out investigations to find out:
    • How are you making the sounds?
    • How can you make the sound higher? lower? louder?
  • Each group records their results on a poster, including any patterns that they found. They also discuss:
    • how well they have worked together;
    • how they might organise themselves next time;
    • how happy they are with the group ideas on changing sounds.
  • Groups could swap equipment if they want to do more experiments, but make sure that they have first recorded their results on the poster or in their book.
  • You may like to use Resource 3: Ideas pupils may have about working in a group to help your pupils with their discussions at the end of the experiment.

Page 3

For centuries, people have developed musical instruments using local materials. These all involve plucking, hitting, blowing or rubbing to create vibrations of different pitch and volume. Many instruments also have a box of vibrating air to amplify the sound (make the sound louder). Try to find out about traditional instruments in your community – is there anyone who could come into your classroom and show their instrument? Read about one female singer from West Africa using traditional musical instruments in Resource 4: Ami Koita. The Key Activity and Case Study 3 involve pupils exploring musical instruments – either from the community or those pupils have made themselves. In both cases, pupils develop criteria to judge the instruments. In the activity, you could also ask your pupils to develop criteria to judge their presentations. Inviting local musicians into the school to demonstrate their instruments and to hear the pupils’ instruments would be a wonderful way to end the activity. (See Key Resource: Using the local community/environment as a resource.)

Case Study 3: Involving pupils – what is best to buy?

Mrs Osei involved her class in the choice of a musical instrument for the school choir. She planned a research project where pupils researched locally available musical instruments, such as the balafon (xylophone), musical bow, drums and trumpets. The class suggested the kinds of questions that would have to be asked, the points to be awarded for each answer and how they would report back. These questions were put together to form a questionnaire. (See Resource 5: Ideas for judging each instrument.) Pupils worked in small friendship groups for homework to get answers to their questions. To analyse the scores, Mrs Osei made a table on a large manila sheet (also in Resource 5 for hints). As the different groups brought in their reports, the scores were entered into the table. These points were all totalled up and, based on the instrument with the highest total score, the class decided to buy the small locally made wooden balafon (See Resource 6: Traditional musical instruments.)

Key Activity: Making musical instruments

  • Organise your class into groups of three (or more if you have a very large class).
  • Tell them that each group will make their own musical instrument, using what they know about changing sounds.
  • Ask each group to draw a rough diagram, showing their instrument and a list of what they will need to make it.
  • Ask each group to organise themselves to bring in materials from home.
  • The next day, give time for each group to make their instrument and prepare a three-minute presentation to:
    • show the different sounds the instrument makes (louder/softer, higher/lower);
    • try to explain how the instrument makes the different sounds.
  • Depending on the size of your class, bring groups together or into four larger groups.
  • With the class (or large group), develop a set of criteria to judge the instruments. Make a list of these criteria on the board. Discuss whether they are all of equal importance. (See Resource 5 for hints.)

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