Making Waves

News from the 1st Grade classroom

April 17, 2021


As we move through the unchartered waters of Covid-19, communicating with distance has become all too familiar, but without the pioneers who had the vision of holding meetings on a platform called Zoom, what would we have done? Here in Alaska, there are potential dangers to consider. What would happen if there was an emergency and no one around for miles? This week, first-grade students explored sound and light and how to communicate with them. Students had various texts to choose from and did several science explorations to learn about this subject.

To explore sound, students learned that sound can make things vibrate and that vibrating things can make sound. They noticed that salt and water “jumped” when touched by a vibrating tuning fork. They also reflected on instruments they have seen or used and realized that many have a string or metal part that vibrates when played. Then, they tested this new understanding out with a string, spoon, and cups. They tied a spoon to the center of a string and attached a plastic cup to each end. If they tapped the spoon, it made a “cool bell sound” in the cup. Then, they changed a variable to see if the sound they heard from the cup could make a different sound. Students discovered that the larger the spoon was, the slower the sound wave or vibration of the string and the lower the tone. They also found that the larger the cup, the louder the sound. The next thing they did with sound was test out items of different shapes and sizes to amplify it. After testing out a cup, straw, poster board, and notecard, they discovered that a large cylinder or cone-shaped item (the cup or poster board rolled up into a large cone) was the best amplifier.

To explore light, they learned that without any amount of light, even from the crack under the door, there would be complete darkness, and therefore they wouldn’t be able to see anything. Students recognized the importance of transparent materials (windows on cars and houses) and tested out materials to see what was transparent. Students also used the beam from a flashlight on various materials like a jar, wax paper, a mirror, black poster paper, and saran wrap to grasp other vocabulary terms like translucent and opaque. They noticed that shiny items bounce or reflect light waves and images, while dull things do not reflect light but instead block it and cast a shadow. Their favorite light activities were making black boxes and stained glass windows. ​

Last week, students took a look at how different children’s books and various movie clips communicate feeling using just sound and light. This week, students learned that our world communicates through sound and light all the time. We see stoplights and understand to stop, go, or slow down; boats navigate through fog with buoys and horns from other ships. So, of course, we had to give this a try! We made our own red light, green light communication system, and then we tried morse code! Students learned that morse code has a dash and dot code for each letter of the alphabet, communicated with sound or light. They practiced translating a tap and slap noise delivered to them. They then decoded a message sent by flashlight, with the dash represented by three seconds of light and the dot represented by one. It was fun seeing them crack codes with their classmates using such a fun historical and valuable skill!

Next week, students will take on the challenge of quickly designing something to communicate that they have an emergency and need help from their closest neighbor across the lake of their Alaskan cabin, using only sound & light. They will need to do both so their neighbor can see them if they don’t hear them, and vice versa. They also need to make sure their neighbor knows it’s an emergency and not a celebration.

As we all navigate the covid-19 pandemic, students show resiliency and an admirable ability to adapt quickly. They may not invent the next best app for a pandemic, but it is a pleasure knowing that these hands-on, real-world experiences provide a platform for these visionary students to bring their problem-solving skills to life. These enriching experiences not only prepare students for their future professions and their impact on society, but they also prepare them for anything they might encounter in life, including an emergency in rural Alaska.


Other recent 1st Grade stories