Webs Wires and Waves: The Science & Technology of Communication
Calls of the Wild

Children will discover how animals use vibrations in different ways to make sounds and communicate with each other.

Estimated Time and Age Level
Preparation: 30 minutes to prepare stations
Activity: One 30-minute session
(Ages 6-10)

Station Label for each of the six Animal Sound-Off Stations.

2 to 4 pairs of narrow-necked bottles (try different sizes, shapes and materials)

2 to 4 empty, clean cans with plastic lids

2 to 4 pencils

2 to 4 aluminum pie tins

2 to 4 small combs

2 to 4 stiff playing cards

2 to 4 thick 4-inch rubber bands

A variety of other objects that will make sounds by rubbing, shaking, tapping, etc. (rulers, jars enclosing rattling objects, etc.)

Paper and pencils for each team to use for taking notes

Copy the Station Labels, cut them out, and tape one near each Sound-Off Station.

Set up all or some of the following six Sound-Off Stations: howler monkey (bottles, pitcher of water); damselfish (pencils, can drums); cicada (pie tins); grasshopper (combs, playing cards); spider (4-inch rubber bands); and an "Invent-Your-Own-Animal-Sound" station with the other objects you've collected.

Create as many teams as you have stations. Explain that at each Sound-Off Station, teams will be using different homemade instruments to mimic the way an animal or insect communicates. After practicing at each station, children will try to communicate a message in the "language" of one of the animals represented.

Without demonstrating each sound, suggest that youngsters look for a single characteristic that connects these "instruments." (Though they may come up with the basic idea, you may have to supply the key word: that these instruments depend upon vibration--moving back and forth in a rhythm to produce sound.) Challenge each team to identify that trait by moving from station to station, taking notes as they go.

After teams have rotated through three stations, ask them to stop and discuss what they've observed thus far. If no team points to the presence of vibrations, give them a clue. Have youngsters close their eyes and place their hands flat on the floor. Then drop a heavy book. How did they know the book had fallen? (They heard it, but they also felt vibrations through the floor. Note: this might not work if your floor rests on concrete.)

Now challenge students to give meaning to the sounds and vibrations they have learned to produce by creating three distinct messages using the "Sound-Off" device at the station where they've ended up: a warning of danger, a mating call, and a "Back off or else!" call. (Or: let them try to communicate another message of their own design.) Give them time to experiment and then ask teams to demonstrate their calls to the entire group. Other students (with their backs turned) can try to guess the meaning of each call.

Ask teams to demonstrate to the entire group the animal sounds they devised at the "Invent-Your-Own-Animal-Sound" station. Judge according to the originality and accuracy of their efforts. Have the members of the other teams try to guess the animals being imitated and/or the messages being sent.

To imitate how human vocal cords vibrate, have youngsters cut a strip of paper about an inch wide, folding it as shown. They should then cut out a notch in the folded end, hold it up to their mouth, and blow. Ask them to experiment with papers of different thickness.

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