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Sound and Stories

Kindergartners are currently exploring this complex driving question: How do we use sound to communicate?

Who knew a study of sound would lead to so many inquiries? Physics, biology, technology, culture, music, and story-telling!

How does sound travel?

Students began their study by experimenting with how sound travels. They sent sound vibrations through an empty water bottle to extinguish a flame, made sprinkles dance on a plastic sheet by banging a metal spoon on a metal bowl, and played “telephone” with two cups and a string. They loved being able to “see” the invisible sound waves!

How and why do animals use sound to communicate?

Kindergartners explored how different animals use sounds to communicate. From listening to recordings of elephants, finches, and bats, they experienced that animals make different kinds of sounds. They gave animals’ sounds these names: “Protecting Your Family,” “Fighting Away Enemies,” “Friendly Playing,” and “Making New friends.”

How do we hear? What is the difference between hearing and listening?

Students summarized their learning about the anatomy of the ear with these thoughts:

  • “The sound goes through air and into our ears!”

  • “When people talk, the sound bounces off of things and goes onto our ear drums. Then it sends a signal to our brains and we know what it means.”

To differentiate between hearing and listening, students shared:

  • “Listening is when somebody is saying something to you and you are listening.”

  • “Hearing is when you hear someone talking.”

  • “It’s good to be a listener, you know, like how we are listening to each other now.”

  • “You’re always hearing, but listening is a choice!”

How can we use technology to record sounds?

Kindergartners invited our friend, Nathan Alef, a sound recording expert, to visit Sycamore with the mission to learn about how to record sounds. First, students learned how a microphone is designed to mimic their ear. They used their voices to play with the concepts of volume and pitch and set out to record the “sounds of Sycamore!”

Kindergartners chose the four most important sounds of Sycamore. With Nathan’s help, they recorded the sounds of parakeets, traffic, free play, and the bubbling creek. To create an interesting cultural comparison, they sent their sound collage to pen pals at our sister school in Sierra Leone! Can Muddy Lotus School students identify the “sounds of Sycamore? What does school sound like for them?

How do instruments make different kinds of sounds?

An exploration of familiar and new instruments helped students experience the way wind, string, and percussion instruments make sound. They had the opportunity to explore a tank drum from Costa Rica and a metal güiro from the Dominican Republic, thanks to Tedd Wakeman. They designed their own instruments and learned a new word: Cacophony!

How are sounds used to tell stories? To rely on their sense of hearing to tell a story, students wore blindfolds and listened to the sounds of Roadrunner and Coyote.

On their first blindfolded listen, they heard a trumpet, a violin, car beeps, and an airplane, without knowing the show that was playing. They watched and listened to the same show and realized that they were hearing the sounds of tiptoeing, chasing, crashing, beeping, falling, and spinning. They observed that quicker sounds meant a there was a chase and quieter sounds meant Coyote was scheming up a new plan. Sounds are important to tell a story without words!

To extend their understanding of how sounds are used to tell a story, Kindergartners were honored to visit Ethan Van der Ryn at Warner Bros. Ethan taught them that “sound effects are all of the sounds in the world that are not people or instruments.” They listened to several sound effects and made guesses about what they were hearing. Then they heard the layered and masterfully crafted sound of Godzilla’s roar with all of the sound effects overlapping. They also recorded their screams while pretending to be people running through the streets to avoid being stepped on by Godzilla! Run!!

While watching a mouse in a movie scene, Ethan recorded the Kindergartners individually squeaking like mice. They tried matching their squeaks to the movements of the mouse. During the sound editing process, they listened as their squeaks were pitched up to sound like a song bird or pitched down to sound like a monkey. Manipulating sound effects is incredibly complicated! It was fascinating to learn from experts how sound effects are created to help tell a story in movies. Who knows…maybe their squeaks will be featured in Ethan’s new movie!

How can we show what we have learned about sound?

Kindergartners decided to write a play based on the Ananse spider folktales of West Africa to perform for Exhibition in June. Their original story will stay true to the cunning trickster, Ananse, while celebrating their own individual interests and strengths. Students are incorporating sound effects - both recorded and live - into their play and are in the process of designing several instruments to be objects of Ananse’s greed.

In the coming weeks, students will collaborate to build their set, plan sound effects and musical transitions, and rehearse their play! For Exhibition, Kindergartners are looking forward to showing the many ways they use sound communicate and share stories!



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