The Science of Sound: Exploring Acoustics Through the Animal Kingdom

by Ryan Harris

When STEM is mentioned, often thoughts turn to constructing robots and exploring the laws of physics, but let’s not forget the incredible world of environmental sciences, where the Earth’s chorus comes alive. Here, we explore how sound connects us to the animal kingdom, serving as a key to unlock the marvels of biology, zoology, and more. 

But how do we get everyone excited about this? Think of the animal kingdom as a giant concert of different sounds. From the deep songs of whales in the oceans to the gentle whispers of leaves in the forest, these sounds are more than just noise. They’re a special language that connects us with animals big and small. Understanding this language of sound opens up a fascinating world of discovery, where every creature has its own unique story to tell.

As educators, we have the opportunity to harness the power of sound to enhance our teaching and connect our students more deeply with the environment. This guide will delve into the myriad ways sound serves as an effective tool in science education, focusing on how to capture and utilize these natural acoustics within the classroom.

Fun Fact for the Class: Did you know that elephants communicate with infrasound, which is too low of a frequency for humans to hear?

Re-establishing the Importance of Sound

Sound plays a fundamental role in early childhood development, often beginning with the simplest of educational tools: flash cards. For toddlers, these cards are more than just pictures; they’re an introduction to the world of language and sounds. 

When a young child excitedly says “moo” instead of “cow,” they’re not just imitating; they’re engaging with onomatopoeia, a concept where words are formed from the sounds associated with what they represent. This type of learning, where sounds are linked to images and words, proves to be highly effective for toddlers, making it easier for them to recognize and remember different animals and objects. There is evidence that onomatopoeic sounds are processed in more diverse regions of the brain than common verbal and non-verbal sounds. 

This approach not only aids in learning but is also inherently fun for toddlers. The use of colorful flashcards that combine these playful sounds with visual cues can significantly enhance their focus, interest, and engagement. This raises an important question: how can these early lessons in sound recognition and onomatopoeia be adapted for K-5 learners in a way that maintains their natural curiosity and enthusiasm for learning?

Going Beyond Flashcards

Just as sound is a cornerstone in early childhood development with tools like flashcards, its significance extends to older students in fascinating ways. The human ear is an amazing organ, not only for picking up sounds (auditory system) but also for helping us stay balanced (vestibular system). These systems work together and affect nearly every aspect of how we perceive the world.

Moreover, the way we use sound connects us with the animal kingdom. While humans might rely more on sight, many animals depend heavily on sound for communication and survival. For instance, bats use echolocation to navigate, a skill that is vital in their world but almost alien to ours.

This understanding of sound’s role in various life forms can be a gateway to nurturing empathy and interest in young students. Teachers can leverage this knowledge to make science classes more engaging and relatable. By discussing how different animals use sound and comparing it to human senses, students can develop a deeper appreciation for nature and science.

To foster empathy and a deeper understanding of environmental impacts among students, teachers can discuss the concept of sound pollution and its effects on wildlife, particularly bats. For these creatures, sound pollution is akin to blinding lights for humans—it disrupts their natural way of navigating and interacting with their environment. This analogy helps students grasp the severity of sound pollution on animals that depend heavily on their sense of hearing.

Nevertheless, this is only one way you can increase engagement. Let’s explore a few more ways you can use facts about sound to encourage young student interest in the natural sciences. 

Some Sound Lessons From The Animal Kingdom

As human beings, we mainly experience and use sound for communication. However, in the animal kingdom, its uses are incredibly diverse and fascinating. For example, consider bats and their use of echolocation, a natural form of sonar, for navigation and hunting. This isn’t just an intriguing fact; it’s a window into the vast applications of sound in nature.

Fun Fact for the Class: Bats’ echolocation is so precise that they can navigate through the darkest caves or hunt the tiniest insects in complete darkness. This skill is essential for their survival and a perfect example of nature’s ingenuity.

Studying how bats use echolocation is more than just biology; it ties into the broader STEM fields. This concept is at the heart of biomimetics, where we learn from nature to improve human technology, such as enhancing artificial sonar systems based on bats’ natural abilities. It’s a brilliant example of how different disciplines like biology, chemistry, and engineering can come together.

Classroom Discussion: Discuss with students how this biomimetic approach has led to advancements in AI, from improving algorithms in self-driving cars to optimizing agricultural practices. It’s a demonstration of how AI, expected to contribute $15.7 trillion to the global economy, intersects with natural sciences.

To make these concepts accessible, simplify complex terms. Instead of ‘larynx,’ use ‘voice box‘ when explaining how animals produce sounds. Generative AI tools can be used to find simpler synonyms and explanations, making the science more relatable for students. However, this isn’t the only way AI can aid us in the exploration and teaching of sound… 

Optimizing Your Classroom for Sound

Just as understanding sound’s role is crucial in nature, it’s equally important in our classrooms. Studies indicate that auditory information is often processed faster than visual information, highlighting the need for sound-conscious teaching strategies. The acoustics of a classroom can significantly impact how well students hear and understand lessons, especially as K-5 learners are still developing their language and cognitive skills.

Interesting Fact for Teachers: Did you know that even a slight increase in background noise can affect a child’s ability to understand spoken words? This is why managing classroom acoustics is so vital.

In environments with high ambient noise, speech clarity can be compromised. This not only makes it challenging for students to follow along but can also reduce their ability to concentrate. As educators, being mindful of how we speak – considering pace, pitch, tone, and volume – is essential. However, these efforts can be undermined by poor acoustics.

In a setting with too much background noise, teachers may find themselves straining to be heard. It can cause communication barriers and increase stress and fatigue. 

Reducing Classroom Acoustics 

First, it’s important that classrooms are architecturally designed to minimise acoustics. The shape and size of classrooms matter as well as the material used to construct walls. Higher ceilings tend to be better for acoustics. 

While most schools simply do not have the budget to structurally remodel classrooms, there are still effective ways to improve sound within them. For instance, incorporating mats or carpeted flooring can help absorb sound, reducing excess noise and echo. Similarly, the type of furniture used can influence classroom acoustics. Padded chairs, for example, are more effective at noise absorption than their non-padded counterparts. Schools should also consider adding acoustic desks.

To further improve acoustics, consider installing sound-diffusing paneling on walls and ceilings. Such additions can enhance sound quality without compromising the visual appeal of the classroom.

Assessing Your Changes and Looking Toward the Future

Once you’ve made adjustments to the acoustic environment of your classroom, it’s important to evaluate their impact. While it’s not feasible to implement every change, using tools like sound simulation and acoustic design software can greatly aid in effective planning and decision-making.

Remember, the primary goal of optimizing classroom acoustics is to enhance the learning experience for students, particularly benefiting those with auditory sensitivity issues. If all of this is unavailable, you can always have the kids experiment with sound-generating AI. After all, solutions like this are already helping scientists decode the true meaning of animal sounds

This can be an exciting opportunity and an excuse for them to get into the world of ML and AI, especially with how easy it is to get an introduction through programming languages like Python. 

Of course, this should only be approached if the students are interested, and in a graduall manner, with tasks such as generating documents with Python and some basic automations. After that, they can further specialize. 


In STEM, the key is to remind learners they have a world of options at their fingertips. It’s like a buffet with endless possibilities, not just a set menu. We can weave varied subjects, including art, into STEM, bringing diverse and engaging topics to life. 

Sound is a prime example of such a topic. It’s crucial in how we impart lessons to students, making it essential to optimize its use in the classroom. And most importantly–don’t hesitate to tackle their thirst for knowledge with cutting-edge solutions like AI. 

Ryan Harris

Ryan Harris is a copywriter focused on eLearning and the digital transitions going on in the education realm. Before turning to writing full time, Ryan worked for five years as a teacher in Tulsa and then spent six years overseeing product development at many successful Edtech companies, including 2U, EPAM, and NovoEd.