Today’s post could also be titled: “The Seeing Sound Machine That Never Was.” You see, I was supposed to post a sound-themed activity today for the Summer S.T.E.A.M. Camp blog series, but unfortunately – I left it until last minute and the whole thing failed! And I mean triple failed!
So, why am I here writing this post today? To share my trials (good for a laugh) and my tribulations (the insight that came out of this!) with you – my fellow parents (or teachers!). Maybe – after reading this, you too will know what to do when your science experiment fails!
Here’s where it all started. I made the #1 classic science teacher mistake…I didn’t do the experiment myself before trying it with my students.
In my case, I’m the teacher (mom) and my 4 year old son, “Onetime” is my student. I want him to grow up to love science – just like I do, so we do a whole lot of it around my house. And usually things go well…until today.
As I mentioned earlier, we were going to make a “seeing sound machine” to help Onetime understand that sound is created when things vibrate and that it travels through the air in waves to our ears.
I had the activity planned for before dinner last night, and Onetime was relaxing watching The Magic School Bus on TV while I was getting out all the supplies.
I thought it was kismet that it turned out to be the sound episode – I couldn’t have planned a better introduction!
In the show, Ms. Frizzle and her students spend the night in a creepy sound museum where they get to play a variety of instruments while wearing magical goggles which allow them to see the sound waves.
As the show finishes, I dramatically announce to my son –
“Do YOU want to see sound now too?” to which he enthusiastically replies by running to the kitchen shouting, “YES!”
(“Wow, he’s really excited,” says my surprised husband….the artist. LOL!)
“Yes – science IS exciting,” I reply somewhat smugly (little did I know how far I’d fall!)
And that’s when our series of failures began.
Well, not really. I should have known the day before when we finished spending the day painting empty tin cans for our activity, only to discover that we couldn’t remove both ends with a can opener, like we needed to.
But today we had the right cans – nothing could go wrong!
Except…when we stretched a balloon over one end of the can and tried to glue our little shard of mirror to it, it wouldn’t stick.
Okay – downstairs to get the super tacky glue.
“Okay – it’s not really sticking….what should we do? Maybe we need a bigger piece of mirror?”
Numerous shards of broken mirror and lots of glue later, we finally had a (somewhat) working model. Now all we had to do was go to a dark room, flash a light into it to reflect an image on the wall, speak into the can, and watch the reflection vibrate from the sound waves of our voices!
Onetime was SO excited. “I’ll turn the lights off Mommy!” “Can I hold the flashlight?” “What sounds do we make?”
Then the inevitable…“Why isn’t it vibrating Mommy?”
“Hmm…I’m not sure…”
After trying a bunch of different positions, flashlights, kinds of sounds, and then at one point, yelling into the can at top volume, I finally figured out what may have been obvious to anyone who wasn’t expected to write a blog post about this the next day….
It wasn’t working.
At the back of my mind, I remembered an idea I had read somewhere about how two glasses of water will vibrate together when one is struck with a pencil.
Out come the wine glasses, “Let’s get them half full.”
“What’s half mean Mommy?”…
Minutes later, just as my son had given up striking the wine glass with a pencil and was reaching for the metal tuning fork I had sitting on the table, to give it a try…I was faced with accepting that we were just not going to have a “seeing sound machine” today.
This was the classic failed experiment.
So – was that entire hour and a half wasted with my son? (3 hours if you count the time we spent painting cans two days ago.)
Well, no. It really wasn’t.
Just because I was frustrated, didn’t mean that he didn’t learn a whole lot and even enjoy the process.
In fact, as I was tucking him into bed, he asked, “Can we do more science tomorrow Mommy?”
And caught off guard, I answered, “Sure can bud!”
After all, isn’t that what science is all about?
Trying things, failing, trying something different, learning a bit more, failing again, and again, learning more, until something finally works?
Isn’t that really how humans learn the best? By doing…and by failing.
Here I was thinking the time was a waste, when really…we had been learning some pretty powerful lessons.
Persistence. Patience. The importance of mistakes.
In fact, the real learning yesterday wasn’t about sound, or invisible sound waves, or the difficulty in visualizing sound, it was about the nature of experimentation and trial and error.
The nature of SCIENCE itself.
When my son asked, “Why isn’t it vibrating?” and I replied, “Hmmm…I’m not sure,” I joined him in becoming a real scientist.
When I asked him (a bunch of times actually), “Why do YOU think this isn’t working?” and he started hypothesizing, he was doing some incredibly powerful and deep thinking.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize how awesome it was that the activity didn’t work. Maybe I’m not such a failure of a science teacher after all!
Today’s post is the last in the 5 Senses Science Blog Hop series. Check out the other fun posts below! Links will be added as posts go live.
Twirling Buzzing Noise Maker – What Do We Do All Day?
Pop Rocks Science: Exploring Viscosity – Little Bins for Little Hands
Modern Art Steady Hand Game – Left Brain Craft Brain
Colorful Water Xylophones – Pink Stripey Socks
DIY Voicepipe – Babble Dabble Do
Salt Vibrations: Sound You Can See – Frugal Fun for Boys
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