Designing a Sound Studio

Designing a Sound Studio

State the focus of the workshop and its relevance to the science teacher education.

In this workshop, participants will engage in an engineering design activity to design and create a sound studio, and compete for best . This activity is part of our after-school STEM clubs activities, and we will also share information about how to start a STEM Club by handing out our Science Scope article.

2. Explain who within the ASTE membership would be most interested in your
presentation (e.g., methods instructors, educational researchers, curriculum developers, etc.) and why.

This lesson can be used for a lesson in an undergraduate methods course, by upper elementary, middle school, or 9th grade teachers with their students, or by those in curriculum support roles who are assisting with developing activities for after-school activities or supplemental STEM activities for other informal settings.
3. Describe the expertise/experience of the workshop presenters to present in the
topic area.

The workshop presenters developed this activity as part of an NSF grant, and implemented with it teachers, who then carried out the lessons with hundreds of middle school students at rural middle schools in NC.
4. List the learning objectives of the workshop and how you will assess whether participants met those objectives.

This activity helps participants to learn about wave properties, and also the engineering design cycle (listed below). The formative assessment will be in participants’ applying the sound practices and disciplinary core ideas in their design of the sound studio. Then the sound studios will be tested as a group, with some time for evaluating the designs/materials of those that worked better to reduce sound. Although with one hour, we don’t think participants will have time for re-design, in a typical class activity for a methods class or with block schedules, students would have time to make changes.

Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs): PS4.A: Wave Properties
Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs): Developing and Using Models; Planning and Carrying Out Investigations; Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs): Systems and System Models; Structure and Function

This activity builds towards the following NGSS Performance Expectations:
MS-PS4-1. Use mathematical representations to describe a simple model for waves that includes how the amplitude of a wave is related to the energy in a wave.
MS-PS4-2. Develop and use a model to describe that waves are reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through various materials.

5. Provide a description of the workshop activities/ instructional strategies you will be
using to meet the objectives.


Club members will use the design process to build and test a miniature sound studio using various building materials and their knowledge of sound energy and insulation.


Before moving into the hands-on part of the activity, club facilitators should first activate club members’ prior knowledge. Ask them:
How are sounds made?
How does sound get from a source (say, striking a tuning fork or hitting a drumhead with a drumstick) to your ears?
Have several instruments on hand (a bell, a triangle, a drum, ask the band director) and make sounds with them. Ask club members to tell you how the sound gets from the instruments to their ears. Record their ideas on chart paper or on the board.

Separate club members into teams and present them with the following challenge: the school was just given a significant amount of money to design a sound studio. The only place to put the sound studio is in a space in the library and the librarian is very concerned about library patrons being disturbed while the sound studio is in use. The STEM club has been asked to design a room that will absorb the most amount of sound so that the music does not disturb people using the library. Club members will use a box as a proxy for the sound studio and create a design that will decrease or mute the sound that would be generated in the studio. To evaluate this challenge, club members use a speaker within the box and a decibel meter outside the box to measure the effectiveness of their design.

Divide members up into teams. Have each team do some research on sound and how it travels. Once the teams have a basic understanding of sound they must brainstorm a design. Allow teams to have access to each supply material for teams to see and touch.
Require teams to create a blueprint for their soundproof room along with a detailed list of materials needed for their design. Teams should be able to explain why they believe the materials they choose will help soundproof the studio based on the science of sound.
Club facilitators must approve the blueprint design plan from each group making sure all supplies are listed with exact amounts and verify that the design is realistic and sound (no pun intended). Also, each design must take into account the size of the speaker that will be used to test the sound studio (it must fit inside of it).
Allow teams to get only the materials needed to construct their sound studio from its blueprint and materials list.
Teams then construct their sound studios with the requested materials only.
To simulate a real-world situation, limit how much time teams are given to construct their model sound studios. During this time, teams may test to make sure the speaker fits inside their sound studios, but may not test to see how well their design is working in relation to soundproofing.
After all teams have completed their sound studios, it is time to test each team’s prototype.
Have each team come to the front one by one. Prior to testing each sound studio, have each team explain the construction of its sound studio and why it was made in that manner. Record main points on chart paper or on the board for each team.
To test a sound studio, place the studio over the audio speaker, like an upside down cup. Place a decibel meter next to the sound studio (you must place the decibel meter in the same place for each studio).
To make the testing accurate between prototypes, play the same audio clip at the same volume level for each sound studio test and place the decibel meter in the same place for each studio.
For each sound studio test, have teams record the highest decibel level reached in the table in the Data Collection section on the worksheet.
Using the notes recorded on the board or on chart paper, lead a club discussion about why certain sound studios performed better than others and why certain materials worked better than others. Ask club members how they would redesign their sound studios based on what they observed or heard.


Each team (no more than 4 club members) will need:
8 x 8 x 8 Cardboard Box
Roll of Tape

There should be a common table with the following materials (not all these materials need to be made available, but a nice variety is helpful) to be used by the entire class.

Small Portable Bluetooth Speaker (or a smartphone if a bluetooth speaker is not available)
Two smartphones (one for decibel testing and the other to hook to speaker for sound generation)
One app to generate a tone and second app to measure decibel levels (one for each phone):
Tone Generator (or other suitable applications)
Decibel X: dB, dBA Noise Meter (or other suitable applications)
Bubble wrap (cut into 30 cm x 30 cm pieces)
Steel wool
Parchment paper (cut into 10 cm x 15 cm pieces)
Aluminum foil (cut into 10 cm x 15 cm pieces)
Styrofoam plates
Felt (cut into 10 cm x 15 cm pieces)
Painter’s tape
Cotton balls
Copier paper
Construction paper
Paper towels
Paper plates
Craft pipe cleaners / fuzzy sticks
Craft / Popsicle sticks
Foam sheets

Safety Precautions

Remind club members about the importance of using scissors properly in the classroom. Club members should never walk or horse around with scissors. Use blunt-nosed scissors if at all possible.

[Note: We don’t have room to include all of the career links and supplemental materials, but we will distribute a copy of this activity as a part of the workshop.]

6. Describe how you will make yourself available/offer support to the participants for continuing their learning and collaboration after they return to their home institutions.

We can offer support through The Science House at NC State, who is partnering with Dr. Meg Blanchard at NC State in the College of STEM Education. We still are running STEM clubs in NC and we are getting this out as part of an activity book on how to start STEM Clubs, so we are available for help. Our partner at CIBL is assembling all of the materials kits for those who want to buy materials through a vendor.
7. If appropriate, provide a pertinent reference list. (Reference list does not count as part of the proposal word limit.)

Great video to prove sound is caused by vibrations:
Trailer: Essentials of Audio Engineering with Young Guru: (1:16)
Sound Engineer’s Hard Work (humorous): (1:18)
DIY $23.00 Mini Sound Booth building in under an hour: (5:38)

Optional Assessment

Sound is a form of _____.

Sound travels best through _____.

Sound moves in _____ directions.

_____ is the highness or lowness of a sound.

A movement back and forth produces sound is called _____.

_____ is an organized pattern of sound.

The speed of the vibration is called _____.

The amount of force placed on an object that affects how tight or loose it is is called _____.

The loudness or softness of a sound is _____.

Sound travels through waves called _____.
Sea waves
Transverse waves
Compressional waves