Classroom Activities

A Cup Of Sound

(Level: Elementary)

This activity demonstrates how different variables affect the pitch of the sound produced by a cup made from a variety of materials. It is an example of a “slip-stick” method of generating sounds.

Cup of Sound Activity (PDF, 116KB)

Thinking Inside the Box

(Level: Elementary, Middle School, High School)

This is a hands-on inquiry activity that allows students to discover how scientists and researchers use sonar to explore the seafloor. Students and/or teachers build a model of the seafloor out of a copy paper box. Students will collect data from the model and organize it using grids and data tables by hand on paper and by computer with Excel. Students will use the data collected to create and build 2 and 3 dimensional topographical maps and graphs. All directions, patterns, grids and charts can be printed for this standards based activity. Note: You will need to print out the following files to complete this activity.

File 1: Box Directions (PDF, 142 KB)

File 2:Box Directions 2 (PDF, 133 KB) – for best results print out on 11 x 17 paper

File 3: Inside the Box Worksheet (PDF, 8 KB)

File 4: Inside the Box Elementary (PDF, 313 KB)

File 5: Inside the Box Middle-High (PDF, 343 KB)

Stirring up Sound

(Level: High School)

This activity explores how physical properties of water affects sound waves. Though an inquiry activity the affect of temperature on sound speed is demonstrated. The scattering of sound from dissolved particles and bubbles is also demonstrated.

File: Stirring up Sound Activity (PDF, 217 KB)

Sound Off!

(Level: High School)
Sound is a wave, similar to the ripples on a pond or the ocean waves you might see crashing on a beach. Instead of being a wave on the ocean surface, sound is a wave that travels through a medium, such as air or water. Just as microphones are used to “pickup” sound in air, devices called hydrophones are used to receive sound underwater. Sounds recorded by hydrophones can be visually displayed to show the components of the sound. These components include the frequency (pitch) and intensity (amplitude, perceived loudness) of a sound. Scientists use these visualizations to help describe and understand sound. For example, most natural sounds will change in frequency and intensity over time, and this can be easily seen with a specialized sound visualization called a spectrogram.

File: SoundOff! Activity (Zip File, 22.53 MB)

Statistical Uncertainty

(Level: Middle and High School)

This activity explores statistical uncertainty.

Scientists make measurements of the natural world — both to describe the natural world and to understand the fundamental laws that govern the operation of the natural world. These measurements allow scientists to quantify conditions and describe natural phenomena. However, there can be uncertainty in scientific findings about the natural world, because of limited accuracy and precision of measurements (Measurement Errors) and the variability that occurs in nature (Natural Variability). Scientists use statistical methods to help interpret their measurements and quantify the amount of uncertainty. Statistics involves analyzing numerical data from a specific set of observations in order to make broader generalizations about the natural world. The following activity demonstrates how scientific measurement data can be used to determine natural variability and its effect on statistical uncertainty.

File: Statistical Uncertainty Activity (PDF, 162 KB)

Are We Hearing the Same Thing?

(Level: High School)

This activity demonstrates the effect of a medium (air versus water) on the reception of sound. Using a pipe or a hose, sounds are produced in the air and in the water. These sounds are analyzed qualitatively (verbal descriptions) and then quantitatively (measuring frequency, wavelength, and amplitude) using a microphone, a hydrophone, and a computer with a sound analysis program. The students will present to the class the sounds they heard and the effects of medium on those sounds.

File: Hearing the Same Thing Activity (PDF, 76 KB)

How to Build a Hydrophone

(Level: High School)

It was once thought that the ocean was a silent place. However, if you were to drop a hydrophone, or underwater microphone into the water, you would soon discover that the underwater world is quite noisy. A hydrophone picks up acoustic signals and then transfers the sounds into a receiver that allows you to hear them. The following instructions allow you to inexpensively build your own hydrophone. Use this hydrophone to hear sounds in your aquarium or go down to the beach and drop it in the water.

Download the 2021 How to Build a Hydrophone activity PDF

History of the “How to Build A Hydrophone” Activity:

Kevin Hardy of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, UCSD introduced a “Build A Hydrophone” project in 2000 within which he provided a material list, assembly schematics, glossary of terms and other valuable resources forming the foundation of this activity. This work has appeared as the basis for many subsequent hydrophone build activities and offered one of, if not the first activity of this nature.

In 2002, the Discovery of Sound in the Sea (DOSITS) team, at the University of Rhode Island, added significant value to this project by utilizing the Hardy design as the basis for developing their own comprehensive step-by-step guide on “How to Build a Hydrophone”.

Nearly ten years later, this activity was picked up and reinvigorated by a team from the Center for Ocean Sciences Education for Excellence, Technology and Engineering for Knowledge (COSEE-TEK), at the University of Connecticut: Kevin Joy, John Hamilton & Ivar Babb. A new design was introduced offering a new and improved hydrophone housing and simplified wiring plan. This activity is still valid and offers a simple, functional, and affordable design for a DIY hydrophone, utilizing an electret microphone element. Explore the 2012 build a hydrophone documents at COSEE-TEK (as of August 2023 the COSEE TEK site appears to be down).

In 2014 the COSEE-TEK Team built upon the previous work and design concepts gained through new presentations of hydrophone builds (see references below) to provide a vastly improved hydrophone design based upon the use of a piezoelectric microphone element. The primary advantage to utilizing a piezoelectric microphone element over an electret microphone element is that the piezoelectric element requires no power to operate, thereby reducing the number of components and fabrication effort required to complete the activity. The COSEE-TEK  2014 hydrophone build document and 2015 tutorial video are still available on the COSEE-TEK website(as of August 2023 the COSEE TEK site appears to be down).

The DOSITS team worked with the COSEE-TEK team to continue to improve the Build a Hydrophone activity during the MaTTS Project. Over the last 4 years the DOSITS Team has updated and improved the hydrophone activity as it has been used in engineering and oceanography camps. The 2021 Build a Hydrophone version, currently available on DOSITS, is the most recent update to the hydrophone activity. This version updates the amplifier/speaker used, due to the discontinuation of the Radio Shack amplifier/speaker, along with numerous additions and changes to the instruction text.

Hydrophone Activity References:

  • Discovery of Sound in the Sea
  • Raven: Interactive Sound Analysis Software, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bioacoustics Research Program
  • Hardy, K. 2000. Build A Hydrophone. Scripps Institute of Oceanography/UCSD
  • E. R. Vivas and B. L. Lopez (2011, March 12). Construction, calibration, and field test of a home-made, low-cost hydrophone system for cetacean acoustic research. Acoustical Society of America; Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics, Cancun Mexico, 15-19 November 2010
  • Peter Stephanishen, personal communication; University of Rhode Island, OCE 311 “Coastal Measurements and Applications”, Laboratory exercise, 2006.

Cavitation, Anyone?

(Level: Middle School)

In this set of three activities, students will investigate how marine animals use non-vocal sounds. Students will look at the ways humans use non-vocal sounds and compare them to the ways marine animals use non-vocal sounds.
Note: You will need to download and print all 4 files to complete this activity.

File 1: Cavitation Anyone Activity    (PDF, 99 KB)
File 2: Cavitation Anyone Activity Sheet1A (PDF, 28 KB)
File 3: Cavitation Anyone Activity Sheet2b (PDF, 42 KB)
File 4: Cavitation Anyone Web Instructions (PDF, 56 KB)
File 5: Cavitation Dailybread Audio file for Activity  (Zipped MP3, 310 KB)

Do You Hear What I Hear?


Do Ocean Animals Produce and Use Sound Like We Do?

(Level: Elementary, Middle School, High School)

This activity demonstrates the variety of sounds marine animals use to communicate. Students listen to marine animal sounds and compare them to human communication. The activity includes listening to audio files and using fill-in-blank, Venn diagram, or compare/contrast format.

File: Do You Hear Activity  (PDF, 148 KB)

Humpback Whales: The Great Communicator of the Sea

(Level: Elementary, Middle School)

Includes two activities that engage students in a creative understanding of how humpback whales communicate using sound. The first activity investigates acoustic communication using the body. Students choreograph and perform message movement phrases. The second activity explores communication through vocalization. In this activity, the students compose and perform songs.

File 1:Great Communicator Activity  (PDF, 157 KB)
File 2: Worksheet A (PDF, 42 KB)
File 3: Worksheet B (PDF, 40 KB)

In Other Words

How Do Dolphins Sense Their Environment?

(Level: Middle School)

Includes two activities that demonstrate how dolphins gather information about their environment. In the first activity, students communicate information to one another using vocalizations and their bodies, but not words. In the second activity, students attempt to locate a dropped object using only their hearing. Students fill in data tables and answer discussion questions as they complete each of the two activities. Extensions are included for the elementary and high school levels.

File: In Other Words Activity (PDF, 115 KB)

On the Trail of a Whale

(Level: Middle School, High School)

In this activity students will learn that different whales make different vocalizations. They will also discover how scientists can track whales by listening for their vocalizations.

File:Trail of a Whale Activity (PDF, 166 KB)