Spotlight on Science 8: Sound Visualization

For a few minutes during a sound visualization activity last semester, Mr. Tropp’s Room 318 more closely resembled a wood shop than a traditional classroom.

Using pine boards, saws, a screw gun, balsa dowels, hot glue, mirrors, and inexpensive speakers, students built seemingly rustic devices that, once complete, did something quite refined: changing student-made beats into dancing shapes traced by lasers.

Tropp’s project was to build a device that allowed sound waves to be visualized with light. The Maker Faire atmosphere buzzed with enthusiasm as the 8th graders teamed up to work at stations focussed on different construction processes including cutting boards, screwing them together, and delicately attaching a mirror to speaker cones. At each station students undertook an important task in the project, engaging both their hands and their minds.

Tropp Collage

When the excitement and the sawdust settled, the students had produced a tool that deepened their understanding of the physical world. Research suggests that students who engage in hands-on learning develop a more profound understanding of the concepts being taught than students who are simply told about the same concepts in lecture-based lessons.

One student’s grandfather brought in an oscilloscope–another device that allows one type of signal to be visualized in a different way. This cousin of the device they had just built gave students further insight into the usefulness of their effort.

The project let students discover first-hand how the seemingly sharp lines between art, science, play, and learning can be blurred. And it let them bring home evidence of their own ability to creatively combine hand tools and knowledge into an honest-to-goodness laser light show.

All in a day’s work at Kirby School!