Creating Communication

By Jordan Wargo
4th Grade Engineering
3-5—ETS1-2: Generate and compare multiple solutions to a problem based
on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
4-PS3-4: Apply scientific ideas to design, test, and refine a device that
converts energy (light, sound, heat, or electricity) from one form to another.

Use the engineering cycle to design devices that convert energy in order

to communicate across a classroom.
Construct and use their device to communicate a short message across

the classroom.
Evaluate how successful their device was at conveying their message
compared to their peers’.

Materials and setup
*Amounts based on a class size of 30 students, may vary based on need*

Communication of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow Youtube Video

( [Start at :40)
TV/monitor/projector connected to a computer
10 string cup phones
o For each cup, you will need 3 meters of yarn and 2 paper cups. Cut a
small hole in the bottom of the cup, insert one end of the yarn into the
bottom of the cup and secure it with a knot. Repeat this with the other
cup on the other side of the yarn. To use, pull the string taut and speak
into one cup while someone else listens through the other one.
Lined paper
“Constructing Communication” Rubric
“The Design Process” Poster from Discover Magazine

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Materials for construction (about 4 or 5 of each, with more available upon
o Rubber bands, batteries, circuit cords, light bulbs (big and small circuit
ones), switches, toilet paper rolls, paper (various thickness, color, and






transparent colored papers, pre-stripped wires, etc.
Student generated devices
Open classroom areas
The students may be working with open circuits and should be cautious of damaged
wires. Students may also be using sharp objects and should be careful not to injure
self or others. Students should be advised to stay alert in the classroom in case of
an emergency or accident from their peers.
Requisite Knowledge
From 3rd Grade:

Demonstrate that light travels in a straight line, but it can be refracted when

passing through different media.
Define transparent, translucent, or opaque.
Classify sounds as man-made or natural.
Demonstrate that vibrations make sound.
Explore how sound and light are energy.

From 4th Grade:

Describe heat as a form of energy, measurable by a temperature change.
Demonstrate how adding energy can increase temperature.
Construct simple DC circuits with batteries (source), bulbs (load), wires (path)

and switches.
Investigate the poles of magnets and the types of materials that are attracted

by magnets.
Relate the poles of magnets to poles of a compass.
Engineering cycle process
Electrical conductivity

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Engage (15 minutes)
Begin by pulling up the Communication of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow video on
the class screen. Beginning at 0:40 seconds, play the video all the way through. Ask
the students to reflect on the following questions while watching the video. At the
conclusion of the video, ask for several student responses.
 What are some of the devices that people have used to communicate?
(Signals, smoke, bird messages, string and cup phones, radio, phone,
computers, etc.)
 What are some of the problems that people had to work through to be able to
send messages? (Some you needed the sun to be up, too far away to see the
fire, pigeons got lost, etc.)
 What type of energy did you see people using to communicate? (Heat (fire),
light (sun), electricity (TV and phones), and sound (talking, ringing))
Following the brief discussion, split the class into groups of three and give each
group a cup and string phone. Instruct the students that they should have a
conversation with their groupmates using the paper cups, but do NOT tell students
how to use the cup phone, instead they should experiment with the cup in order to
make it work so that they can have a clear conversation. Two members should be
attempting to communicate, and the other should be observing and making
suggestions to get the device to work. Partners should rotate so that each student
gets the opportunity to observe how the phone works. When every student has had
the opportunity to observe, collect the cup phones and ask students the following

How well did the cup phone work?
What did you observe when your groupmates were talking?
What did you do to make the cup work better?
What kind of energy do you think was used to carry on a conversation with
your friends?

Explore (35 minutes on day one and 30 minutes on day two)
Day One:
Begin by reminding the students of the engineering process by reviewing the
“Design Process” poster with the class. Instruct each student to pull out a piece of
lined paper so that they can sketch a device that could be used to communicate a
short message across the room to a friend. Each device, or pair of devices, that
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students generate should convert energy twice in order to pass along the message.
The devices must be made using common household and classroom items. The
students must be able to name the energy that is used in their device. After
designing their device, they need to write out all of the materials that they would
need, positive aspects of their design, and potential problems. Students may not
use the string-cup example that was used in the Engage for their final device. After
15 minutes, stop the class and divide them into groups of three. The groups will now
take each of the sketches they drew and will talk about them, debating the positives
and the problems of each. The group will compile one “final” sketch that they would
like to build. The teacher should okay the “final” sketch before the students can
move on. In each sketch, look for:
 Two energy conversions
 Changes to the original sketches
 Material list (common household items)
Day Two:
Begin in the same groups from the day before. Students will work together to
construct their communication devices. Their construction process should include
testing on the device and making necessary modifications. Students will have a half
hour to make a working device to the best of their ability. While students are
working, the teacher should be moving from group to group asking questions and
making suggestions to help students build their devices. Questions can include:

What types of energy are you using?
How will you know if your partner received the message?
Can you communicate in words or do you need a special code?
Is there any instance in which your device would not work? How could you fix

Explain (20 minutes)
Begin with groups paired up (there should be 10 groups of three for the construction
part, so there should be 5 pairs of groups) and lined up opposite each other along
the classroom perimeter. The class will participate in a mini gallery walk to show
their communication devices to classmates. There will be 5 rotations and each
rotation will be 4 minutes long. Both groups should have the opportunity to
demonstrate how well their device works. The group that is watching the
presentation should be thinking critically about the device and should offer up any
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suggestions for improvement. All comments should be positive criticism. While the
students are presenting their findings, the teacher should also be walking around to
observe each groups presentation. The teacher should ask students probing
questions like the following that will help students refine their explanations.
 How do you know what types of energy are involved in the communication?
What evidence do you see?
 What was your inspiration in developing this device?
 What problems did you come across when creating this device that you
hadn’t considered before?
 How did you as a group problem solve and work together to finish your
Possible Student devices might include:
1. A buzzer and light circuit—students may construct a simple circuit that
includes a buzzer and a light that can be used to send a predetermined,
coded message across the room. This device converts electricity to light and
sound in order to convey a message. Students would need to decide on a
coded message and determine meaning in order for this device to be
2. Conductivity tester and tap water—the students would first need to develop a
code for a message. They then need to construct a simple conductivity tester
using a battery, pre-stripped wires, and a buzzer. Students will use the
conductivity tester and a bottle of water to send a coded message across the
classroom to their partners.
3. Paper towel rolls and flashlights—Students will attach paper towel rolls end to
end to create a communication channel. At each end they will attach a
flashlight facing away from them. Student will use the flashlight to indicate
that they wish to speak and then speak into the channel to their partner
listening on the other side.
Throughout the project, the teacher will be formatively assessing the students by
asking questions about the students’ use of the engineering cycle, how their
devices work to convert energy, and how they evaluate their devices compared to

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their peers’. The summative assessment will be of the device that the students
create and will be evaluated based on the checklist rubric following the references.
Draxler, B. (n.d.). Teaching Kids to Think Like Engineers. Retrieved April 19, 2016,
T. (2011). Communication of Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow (BB1403). Retrieved April
24, 2016, from

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Constructing Communication Rubric
Directions: Begin by evaluating yourself based on the criteria
below. Place a check mark on the given space under “selfassessment” if you feel like you have met this requirement.
Once you have submitted this rubric to me, I will evaluate
you on the completeness of your work in class. Each piece
below is worth one point, and your completed selfassessment is worth two points.
Did I….?



assessm Evaluat
Sketch (with my group) at least
four possible devices
Work with my group to refine our
thinking about our device
Perform experiments while
making our device in order to
make it work better
Create a device, or pair of
devices, that used two forms of
energy conversion
Create a device that could
communicate a short message
across the classroom
Compare my device to my peers’
to see how else I could have
solved the problem
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Give my peers constructive
criticism when they
demonstrated their devices in
our gallery walk
Make changes to my device
based on suggestions from my
peers and teacher

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