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Minutes from ME



I have heard it said that January in this area is the "Silent Month" but at my house loading the bird feeders starts on January 1. Silent, indeed!

In the classroom we always begin our discussion of hearing by doing just that - we settle ourselves quietly in a circle and we LISTEN for a few minutes. Then after a while of concentration each child, taking turns around the circle, whispers the name of one sound they hear. It may be a clock ticking, coughing, footsteps, a door slamming, traffic, leaves rustling or even someone breathing. We all stop to notice it for ourselves.

When it is my turn I go further afield; I tell my anecdote about the "sound of silence." The first time I saw the Grand Canyon in Arizona, it truly seemed to me that the MASS OF SILENCE from that enormous volume of air below the rim canceled out the surrounding sounds of people talking, traffic passing, etc. A surprising and memorable effect!

After our listening session we begin to wonder and discuss our sense of hearing:

Why do ears have the shape and size they do? Why do we have TWO ears when, for other senses like tasting or smelling we have ONE tongue and ONE nose? How are we able (most of the time) to ignore other familiar sounds and be able to listen only to the teacher's voice? How do we remember each of our classmates voices and recognize them by hearing alone? How does our hearing turn itself down when we sleep? Which occupations need specially good hearing? Have you ever had your ears "pop" when traveling in an airplane or driving on steep hills or even when you yawn? Why do they do that? Many questions!

We think of how hearing keeps us SAFE since we recognize traffic noises, smoke alarms, "Fore" on the golf course, and so on. We think of how hearing bird song, music and laughing makes us HAPPY but the sound of a friend's crying makes us SAD and those some creepy sounds which can FRIGHTEN us.

Among the suitable web sites which describe how the ears process sound vibrations and transmit their signals to the brain are:
PARTS OF THE EAR with a good diagram,
Read about How Your Hearing Works,
ANATOMY OF THE AUDITORY SYSTEM gives more information on the ear,
HOW YOUR EAR WORKS (Shockwave required) includes interesting sound effects.
Or try another EAR ANIMATION.
Looking at all of these websites, which have slightly different diagrams, expands a student's understanding.



Verbal Activities

Sit down in a circle and taking turns, each child consecutively will -
(1) Pick a favorite sound and explain why it is a favorite, or
(2) After suitable "thinking time", make a different sound e.g. whistling, clapping, humming, (without props), or
(3) With all eyes closed and when tapped on the shoulder, use a disguised voice and see if classmates recognize the speaker, or
(4) The circle finale, take turns making the HIGHEST sound possible, then the LOWEST, then (dare I ask) the LOUDEST.

Drawing and Writing Activities

Set up a sheet with boxes and in each draw every different kind of ear you can think of, feel free to roam throughout the animal kingdom.
Pick a category and write every word you can think of describing loud/high/soft/scary/happy/sad noises.
List the different kinds of sounds which can be made by one source, e.g. the human voice sings, sighs, cries, laughs, etc., or the different signals a bell can give.
List all sounds related to a given place or situation - a wedding? a ball game?
Discuss poetry and list rhyming words, describe onomatopoeia then speak and list such examples as tick, squeak, buzz, hum, squish, tweet, boom, crunch, murmur, whisper, kookaburra, and tintinnabulation (of bells) is a personal favorite.

Charting Activity

Using World Wide Web information create a chart of hearing scale or range from AMAZING ANIMAL SENSES, labeling the ranges with the animal names. Discuss the various hearing abilities in the wide range of animals.


A whale has a hearing range of 0.5 - 100 KHz, compare where its ability would fall on the chart. (Just incidentally, human ears are most sensitive around 3,000 Hz and that is right around the pitch of a baby's cry.)

Shaker Activity

Have on hand: Amounts of rice, coffee beans, sugar, sand, corn, pennies, one rubber ball, Styrofoam pieces, beans, rubber bands, staples, paper clips, etc.
Cans containing single items, available for reference listening, may be made up and labeled ahead of time.
Children, in pairs or teams, make up and seal small shaker cans containing a combination of two of the possible contents, number each can and keep a record of its contents. (Experience indicates that a quick survey is in order at this point, to ensure that certain compiled contents are not downright impossible to deduce.)
Of course the object of the exercise is that each child or team will estimate the contents of each other labeled can and enter the estimate on a large chart. Keep the chart and cans around for a while .... children will want to check and recheck their ideas.
This challenge of this activity may be increased by asking not only WHAT'S in it but also HOW MUCH.


Anne Louise has friends at school who have very different interests. When I go to pick her up and drive her home I stop by the places where different after-school activities are happening.

Going through the main door of this big building and down the hallway I begin to hear such squeaking and sliding noises intermixed with a rhythmic thudding. I also hear shouting, a few whistles and, after a hesitation and a "swooshing" sound, a little clapping and cheering. It sounds as if that team practice is going well.

Further down the hallway, past a door which is dulling sounds of human grunts and clangs of metal barbells hitting the floor, I go up a few steps and I stop before the next door. I listen to the echoing shouts of the girls and the coaches, again some whistles and a gun bangs followed by a big splashing noise and then churning, churning water sounds.

The last thing I hear before going back to the car to wait for Anne Louise is the gushing sound of showering water coming from a room labeled "L?C?ER ROOM".


There is fascinating research going on in the field of hearing. For some examples check Signals from a Hair Cell which describes the "dance recital" given by a sound-receptor cell taken from the ear of a bullfrog, and The Goal: Extreme Sensitivity and Speed includes an amazing picture of the structure of that bullfrog's hair cell and describes more current auditory research. Then Locating a Mouse by its Sound describes how barn owls use BOTH ears together to hunt in total darkness.

Then listen to a demonstration of the hearing aspects of the Doppler Effect between a car and a train.

Science has been used in developing hearing aids for people with problems all the way from early ear trumpets to the electronic devices being used nowadays.


Use your World Wide Web connection to listen to some of these sounds:

Then remember a great book to LISTEN TO, as well as read, is "No Ordinary Dog" written by Mary S. Wilson and illustrated by Janet Moreiko.

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