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How Does Sound Travel in a String?

Facilitating a change in sound conception with fourth graders

Science and Children—Fall 2023 (Volume 60, Issue 7)

By Gang Shu, Xiaowei Tang, and Huimin Chen

How Does Sound Travel in a String?

In Chinese science curriculum, the sound unit generally starts with observing various sound making phenomena and finding out that they all involve vibration. (In China, the elementary science curriculum standards assign all sound-related content to the 3–4 grade band, including the idea that vibrating matter makes sound, which was assigned to the K–2 grade band in the Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS].) In previous teaching, we noticed that although our fourth graders could relate sound with vibrating matter after such learning, they would keep applying properties of matter when explaining sound-related phenomena, such as describing echo as “very small sound beads that hit the wall and bounce back.” Such observations motivated us to pursue a conceptual change, helping students conceptualize sound as energy rather than matter. Understanding sound as a form of energy and that energy can travel from place to place through sound falls under the fourth-grade expectations in NGSS (4-PS3-2; 4-PS3-3; NGSS Lead States 2013). It requires treating sound as a process of vibrating motion, so that vibration strength can be associated with the amount of energy, and the propagation of vibration can be seen as energy transfer.

NGSS Phenomena Physical Science Elementary

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