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Seeing Sound: Teachers Learn the Science of Sound
April 28, 2014

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Sound is something most of us with good hearing take for granted. Rarely do we consider the physics involved.  Sound comes from many sources – voices, machinery, musical instruments, computers, vehicles – but all are transmitted and received the same way: through vibration.

A group of 22 elementary, middle school and high school teachers not only learned about the science of sound, but also how to communicate that science to their students in a practical way during a recent "Seeing Sound" workshop at the NASA Armstrong Educator Resource Center at the AERO Institute in Palmdale, Calif.

Sponsored by the Office of Education at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center, the workshop was designed to show the attendees how to use lesson plans and activities developed by NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate to communicate concepts that support the agency's emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics curricula – the STEM disciplines.

Educator Professional Development Specialist Richard Chapleau, a former science teacher at Lancaster High School, provided an overview of the physics of sound and then led the participants through an student activity that demonstrated how they could "see" sound waves to gain better understanding of how different sound frequencies create different sounds.

"What I'm trying to give these teachers are ways to bring real world information into their classrooms," said Chapleau. "They've spent a lot of time with textbooks, and that's how they were all trained – use the textbook, use the textbook, use the textbook.

"The new model now is to let them do more experiential learning," he explained. "Where do they go to get real-world applications? Well, NASA has a pretty good track record in real-world applications."

Chapleau, who was named California's Teacher of the Year in 1995, outlined the Seeing Sound activity that involved the use of simple materials readily available at local variety or home-improvement stores. The activity involved building a simple waveform monitor that bounced a laser pointer beam off of a mirror glued to a balloon diaphragm stretched over the end of a tube. Vibrations from sounds going through the open end of the tube resulted in the laser pointer creating a visible waveform projected on a nearby wall or screen.

NASA Armstrong engineers Patrick Chan, Allen Parker and Francisco Pena also participated in the workshop, demonstrating how a NASA-developed high-tech fiber optic sensing system used similar physics as the simple waveform generators built by the teachers under Chapleau's direction.

A second activity had the teachers building a small glider from a plastic foam picnic plate and then flying it to show basic principals of aeronautics.

"It was incredible to watch all of those teachers learning how to use NASA content in their classroom," commented NASA Armstrong's acting director of education Karla Shy, noting that the workshop was the first held in two years by NASA Armstrong's Educator Resource Center at the AERO Institute.

"My job is to go out there and find what the NASA genius engineers and scientists are doing, and pull the pieces out that will match the national standards," added Chapleau. "By doing it in a real-world fun activity, they're going to translate that fun to their kids, and we're going to get more kids to pursue careers in STEM."

NASA photos by Ken Ulbrich

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Alan Brown, public affairs
NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center

Leader Richard Chapleau outlines the goals of the "Seeing Sound" teachers workshop – building a waveform monitor and a flyable model glider from common everyday materials.
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Vicki Hendrix from Greg Anderson Academy and Brian Bastidas from Hillview Middle School in Palmdale work together on capping a tube with a balloon diaphragm during the Seeing Sound workshop activity.
Vicki Hendrix from Greg Anderson Academy and Brian Bastidas from Hillview Middle School in Palmdale work together on capping a tube with a balloon diaphragm during the Seeing Sound workshop activity.
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Jeanette Chapleau, a teacher at Granada Hills High School and Richard Chapleau's daughter, sees the sound of her voice as she sings into the open end of the waveform monitor while watching the resulting waveform her voice created.
Jeanette Chapleau, a teacher at Granada Hills High School and Richard Chapleau's daughter, sees the sound of her voice as she sings into the open end of the waveform monitor while watching the resulting waveform her voice created.
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Michael Aktutay, a teacher at Challenger Middle School in Lake Los Angeles, uses his guitar to create sound at the open end of the tube while watching the resulting waveform the guitar's sounds produced projected on a nearby wall.
Michael Aktutay, a teacher at Challenger Middle School in Lake Los Angeles, uses his guitar to create sound at the open end of the tube while watching the resulting waveform the guitar's sounds produced projected on a nearby wall.
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Littlerock High School teacher Jeena Philip uses a template to trace out the form of a glider on a foam picnic plate prior to cutting it out.
Littlerock High School teacher Jeena Philip uses a template to trace out the form of a glider on a foam picnic plate prior to cutting it out.
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Page Last Updated: May 5th, 2014
Page Editor: Monroe Conner