Dangerous Decibels

Unit Plan

Unit Summary

Students investigate sound in their environment, particularly how sounds impact their lives. At the beginning of the unit, students use online simulations to investigate the properties of sound and learn about the components of a sound wave. They identify the different sounds in their environment and place them into categories for analysis. Students complete a project where they develop a research question, collect data in the field about different sounds, and analyze their data. They use what they have learned to create a digital product that makes recommendations about teens and sound. At the end of the unit, students share their products and take an exam over the science content.

At a Glance

  • Grade Level: 6-8

  • Subject: Science

  • Topics: Sound

  • Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Critical Analysis, Interpretation of Data

  • Key Learnings: Sound Waves, Decibels

  • Time Needed: 2 weeks, 1 hour daily

Things You Need

  • Unit Assessment Plan(Appendix A)

  • Content Standards and Objectives (Appendix B)

  • Materials and Resources(Appendix C)

Mobile Learning

Mobile apps, reviewed by professional educators for related instructional content.


Curriculum-Framing Questions

Essential Question:

  • How am I affected by the world around me?

Unit Questions:

  • When are sounds too loud?

  • What meaning can I make from raw data?

  • How can I persuade others?

Content Questions:

  • What is amplitude?

  • How are waves created?

  • How do different kinds of waves travel?

Assessment Processes

View how a variety of student-centered assessments are used in the Dangerous Decibels Unit Plan. These assessments help students and teachers set goals; monitor student progress; provide feedback; assess thinking, processes, performances, and products; and reflect on learning throughout the learning cycle.

Instructional Procedures

Unit Preparation

  • Create a Dangerous Decibels wiki for use throughout the unit.

  • Arrange for use of decibel reader probes and microphone probes. (See Internet Resources for sources.)

Unit Introduction

  1. Conduct a discussion of the Essential Question, How am I affected by the world around me? Use the following discussion prompts as needed:

  • What features of your environment affect you?

  • How are your senses affected by your environment?

  • How, why, and when do you control the impact of your environment on your life?

  • What role does sound play in your environment?

  • What impact does sound have on your life?

  • Why should we be concerned about too much noise, or noise pollution?

  1. Ask students to review sound waves by completing the Brainstorm-Share-Journal Graphic Organizer. Direct students to:

    1. Fold and tear a piece of notebook paper into four sections, labeled Brainstorm, Changes, Questions, and Journal.

    2. Work independently to brainstorm what they know about sound waves. (Give adequate time, and stop all students at the same point.)

    3. Find a partner (or assign one) and exchange information from their brainstorm.

    4. Add to the “Changes” section with anything they would like to add or alter from their original thinking in the brainstorm section.

  2. Allow students to meet with at least one or two other classmates to discuss their thoughts about waves and sounds in the environment.

Phase 1: Sounds in Our Environment

  1. Prepare students for the following activity by conducting a short discussion about the sounds in the school environment:

    1. What are some of the sounds you would hear around the school?

    2. How loud are these sounds?

    3. What impact might the loudness of some sounds have on students?

    4. What factors would affect the volume of the sounds?

  2. Ask students to keep a record the types of sounds they hear throughout the day, using the Environmental Sounds Record (Appendix F). Conduct a quick mini-trial of the process by modeling  an example with sounds in the classroom. Discuss some standard ways to describe sounds—loud/soft volume, short/long, high/low pitch, etc.

  3. When students return with the completed records, ask the class to brainstorm some categories they could use to organize the sounds. Model how they can define attributes of the different sounds to create new categories.

  4. Place students in groups of 3 to 5, and ask them to cut individual sound descriptions apart the forms so the sounds can be categorized in different ways. Encourage them to be creative in the categories they experiment with but to settle on some categories that they think would be useful for describing the impact of the sounds. Use the Categorizing Observational Checklist (Appendix E) to assess students’ skills while they work.

  5. After students categorize their sounds and share their categories with the class, ask the Unit Question, When are sounds too loud?

  6. Ask students to respond in their journals to the prompt, What are some ways to judge whether a sound is too loud or too soft?

Phase 2: All about Sound

  1. Use online simulations and animations to review basic concepts about sound. You may choose to include the following topics and simulations, based on the level of your students:

Online Labs

PhET Simulations

  • Sound
    Adjust the frequency and volume to see and hear how the sound wave changes

  • Wave Interference
    View how a second set of sound waves creates an interference pattern

  • Wave on a String
    Adjust the sound frequency and amplitude of an oscillator while viewing the wave pattern effects

  1. Review key vocabulary related to sound and sound wave patterns. Discuss the relationship between volume and pitch of sounds with amplitude and frequency of sound waves. You may wish to use the interactive site Components of Sound to demonstrate some of these concepts.

  2. Use the Interactive Sound Ruler to prepare students to think about the connection between decibels and hearing.

  3. Show a chart similar to the following to the class and ask students to vote on how dangerous each type of sound is to a person’s hearing. If you wish, you could ask students to rank the sounds from the least dangerous to the most dangerous. Students should discuss and explain their reasoning behind their ranking, particularly on what would make a sound sometimes dangerous and sometimes not dangerous.

  • 1—Not dangerous at all

  • 2—Maybe dangerous

  • 3—Definitely dangerous





Conversation with a friend

An exciting moment at a football game

A jet taking off

A baby crying

iPod or MP3 player

Getting yelled at by an adult

Using a snow blower



Car stereo

  1. Demonstrate the use of probes to practice measuring sounds, and give students the opportunity to measure different sounds around the school. If available, use mobile device apps that measure sound or digital probe attachments for mobile devices. When students return to the classroom, have them place their sound measurements on a continuum, from completely safe to very dangerous.

Phase 3: Dangerous Decibels Project

  1. Place students in heterogeneous groups of 3 to 5 for the project.

  2. Ask groups to do some Internet research on the effects of different kinds of environmental sounds, or break up Noise-Induced Hearing Loss into sections for a jigsaw activity.

  3. Conduct a whole class discussion during which groups share their research findings and discuss the impact of different kinds of noise on hearing. Encourage students to think about long term impact of noise pollution and how it might affect their lives.

  4. Explain the project: Your group will create a digital product —a wiki, blog, electronic newsletter or brochure, video, or podcast—with information and recommendations about preventing hearing loss from noise. Introduce the Project Rubric (Appendix H).

  5. Introduce the research process that students follow during the project and distribute the Project Plan Checklist (Appendix G) and the Research Process Checklist (Appendix C) to help students monitor their progress:

    1. Identify a Question or Problem (Example questions: How do the sounds in our environment affect us? What are good and bad sounds in our neighborhood? Why do the sounds in our everyday lives matter?)

    2. Collect Data or Evidence

    3. Analyze Data

    4. Draw Conclusions

    5. Share Findings

  6. Based on students’ research questions, prepare students for fieldwork, on and off the school grounds.

  7. As students work through the project, conduct mini-lessons on relevant critical thinking skills, such as:

  • Creating a good research question

  • Determining data needed to answer the question

  • Developing a project plan

  • Recording data

  • Classifying data

  • Identifying patterns in data

  • Making inferences about data

  • Determining cause and effect

  1. During project work, include frequent opportunities for self- and peer assessment.

  2. When projects are completed, schedule time for students to share their digital products and discuss their findings.

  3. Assess students’ projects using the Dangerous Decibels Project Rubric (Appendix H).

Phase 4: Final Assessment

  1. Assess student learning with a final exam over important content concepts.

  2. Ask students to write final reflections on their learning throughout the project, including learning about sound, conducting research, collaboration, and critical thinking.

Prerequisite Skills

  • Basic knowledge about how sound travels from one place to another

  • Basic graphing skills (idea of change over time, axes, labeling, and so forth)

Differentiated Instruction

Resource Student

  • Reduce the number of concepts needed to master

  • Place students in heterogeneous groups so they can receive help from peers and provide assistance to others in their areas of expertise

  • Provide partially completed project plans

  • Establish daily routines for checking progress and setting goals

Gifted Student

  • Instruct an advanced student to complete an independent research on a related topic, such as light, ocean waves, or hearing aids

  • Encourage effective leadership

  • Point students toward tutorials in online tools for advanced data analysis and display

English Language Learner

  • When possible, make pictures available for new vocabulary

  • If possible, get books in students’ first language with pictures or related ideas

  • Place students in heterogeneous groups so they can use language in an authentic situation, get help from group members when necessary, and provide help to others in their areas of expertise


Sarah Langton of Portland, OR participated in the Intel® Teach Program, which resulted in this idea for a classroom project. A team of teachers expanded the plan into the example you see here.

Appendix A: Assessment Plan

Assessment Timeline:

Before unit work begins:

  • Discussion

  • Brainstorm-Share-Journal graphic organizer

Students work on unit and complete tasks:

  • Project Plan Checklist

  • Research Process Checklist

  • Project Rubric

  • Teamwork Self-Assessment

  • Journals

After unit work is complete:

  • Project Rubric

  • Exam

  • Final Reflection

A discussion of the Essential Question, How am I affected by the world around me? identifies students’ preconceptions about environmental influences on their lives. Before students begin studying the properties of sound waves, ask them to complete the four sections of the graphic organizer—Brainstorm, Changes, Questions, and Journal—to determine their prior knowledge about sound waves and set goals for the unit. The teacher uses the  Categorizing Observational Checklist (Appendix E) while students work on organizing their data to identify topics for mini-lessons and further instruction. The  Project Rubric (Appendix H) is used by students as a self-assessment tool while they work on their projects, and by the teacher as a grading tool at the end of the unit. A  Project Plan Checklist (Appendix G) and a  Research Process Checklist (Appendix C) can help students manage their work. Students write in daily journals to monitor their own progress toward the goals they set at the beginning of the unit and their understanding of the content and skills they are using in the project. At the end of the unit, students take a final exam on their understanding of sound waves and sound in the environment and write a final reflection on their learning.

Appendix B: Content Standards and Objectives

Oregon Science Standards

  • 6.2P.1 Describe and compare types and properties of waves and explain how they interact with matter.

  • 6.3S.1 Based on observations and science principles, propose questions or hypotheses that can be examined through scientific investigation. Design and conduct an investigation that uses appropriate tools and techniques to collect relevant data.

  • 6.3S.2 Organize and display relevant data, construct an evidence-based explanation of the results of an investigation, and communicate the conclusions.

  • 6.3S.3 Explain why if more than one variable changes at the same time in an investigation, the outcome of the investigation may not be clearly attributable to any one variable.

  • 6.4D.1 Define a problem that addresses a need and identify science principles that may be related to possible solutions.

Student Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Measure waves using frequency, wavelength, and amplitude

  • Accurately measure and record data about sounds

  • Analyze data to identify trends and patterns

  • Display data effectively to communicate conclusions and applications

  • Interpret data and apply conclusions to the real life problem of excessively loud sounds in the environment

Appendix C: Research Process Checklist

Research Question:


Requires data to answer

Is open-ended

Investigates the unknown

Collect Data

Created project plan

  • What data do we need?

  • How will we get it?

  • Where will we get it?

  • Who will be responsible?

  • What tasks must be completed?

  • What milestones do we need to meet?

  • Where will we keep our work?

  • What back-up plans do we have?

Set up spreadsheet for data

Recorded data with accuracy and precision

Analyze Data

Synthesized data from different sources

Sorted data in different ways

Displayed data in different ways

Identified patterns and trends

Draw Conclusions

Hypothesized cause and effect

Made inferences

Connected findings to real world

Made recommendations

Got feedback on conclusions

Share Findings

Chose appropriate format for sharing

Created appropriate visual displays of data

Created digital product for sharing

Got feedback on digital product

Practiced presentation

Appendix D: Materials and Resources

Internet Resources




  • Decibel reader probe (Vernier or other decibel reader)

  • Microphone probe

Other Resources

  • Audiologist Guest Speaker

  • In-school field trip for data collection


Slinkys, sand, string (various thicknesses), tuning fork, Vernier probes (see above), hangers, metal spoon, plastic spoon, wood spoon, thin wire, two each of several different sizes of cups, paper clips

Appendix E: Categorizing Observational Checklist

Use the following checklist to make observational notes while students work in groups to categorize their data. The following strategies are not steps to be followed in order; rather, they are strategies that students can use to make categories. Students also should be encouraged to invent their own strategies.
Use the results of your observations to plan mini-lessons on specific strategies students can try.



Physically separate individual pieces of data by cutting them apart and arranging them in piles based on similar characteristics

Brainstorm characteristics or attributes of the data

Look for similarities and differences among data items

Avoid creating a “Miscellaneous” category and placing all items in one or more categories

Divide more general categories into more specific ones

Discuss how different categories will help answer research questions

Categorize data in several ways

Appendix F: Environmental Sounds Record

Describe all sounds you hear four times during the day. Write your description for each sound in a different box below. You will be cutting the boxes apart to categorize the sounds in groups, so make sure your descriptions fit inside the boxes.

Time:                Place:

Source of Sound:

(Description of Sound)

Time:                Place:


Time:                Place:


Time:                Place:


Time:                Place:


Time:                Place:


Time:                Place:


Time:                Place:


Time:                Place:


Time:                Place:


Time:                Place:


Time:                Place:


Appendix G: Project Plan Checklist

Use this checklist to make sure you include everything in your project plan that will make your final project successful and high quality.

▢ We broke down our project into tasks that we can track easily.

▢ We assigned tasks fairly in ways that take advantage of our strengths and help us improve on our weaknesses.

▢ We were specific about the resources we will need and how we will get them, including equipment and people.

▢ We considered important events and dates, such as holidays and school events, when assigning task due dates.

▢ We assigned reasonable task due dates, as long as we all work hard.

▢ We thought about what tasks need to be completed in order to complete other tasks.

▢ We included back-up plans in case some things do not go as we hope.

▢ We asked at least two people from other groups to look over our plan to see if we forgot anything.

Project Plan Reviewers: ______________________ _______________________

▢ We created a document of our project plan and posted it to our Dangerous Decibels wiki.

▢ We keep our project plan updated with our progress and modify it when necessary.

I agree to follow the project plan and to help my group members if unexpected challenges arise.

_____________________________________ Date ____________
_____________________________________ Date ____________
_____________________________________ Date ____________
_____________________________________ Date ____________
_____________________________________ Date ____________

Appendix H: Project Rubric






Throughout our digital product, we use scientific terminology correctly to describe our findings.

We use scientific terminology correctly to describe our findings.

We use some scientific terminology, but it is not always used correctly.

We do not use scientific terminology correctly.


We have extensive accurate data to support our conclusions.

We have sufficient accurate data to support our conclusions.

We have some accurate data, but it does not completely support our conclusions.

We do not have enough accurate data to support our conclusions.


Our conclusions are practical, realistic, creative, and supported by our data and credible information from other sources.

Our conclusions are reasonable and are supported by our data and credible information from other sources.

Our conclusions are not very practical and are not well supported by our data.

Our conclusions are not supported by our data.

Data Display

Our data display effectively communicates and supports our conclusions.

Our data display communicates our conclusions.

Our data display relates to our conclusion but is not very clear or useful.

Our data display is confusing and does not add to our product.

Digital Product

Our digital product effectively uses the features of the format we chose to communicate our message.

Our digital product uses the features of the format effectively.

Our digital product includes features of the format that are somewhat distracting from the meaning.

Our digital product uses no features of the format.

Attention to Detail

Our product is attractive and well-designed, with no writing or formatting errors.

Our product is attractive and contains no writing or formatting errors that detract from the meaning.

Our product has some problems with writing and formatting that detract from its effectiveness.

Our product has many problems that detract from its effectiveness.

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