How Your Brain Understands What Your Ear Hears
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How Your Brain Understands What Your Ear Hears

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Teacher's Guide

Implementing the Module

The five lessons in this module are designed to be taught in sequence for one to two weeks (as a supplement to the standard curriculum) or as individual lessons that support or enhance your treatment of specific concepts in middle school science. This section offers general suggestions about using these materials in the classroom. You will find specific suggestions in the procedures provided for each lesson.

What Are the Goals of the Module?

How Your Brain Understands What Your Ear Hears is designed to help students achieve the following major goals associated with scientific literacy:

What Are the Science Concepts and How Are They Connected?

The lessons are organized into a conceptual framework that allows students to move from what they already know about hearing, some of which may be incorrect, to gaining a scientific perspective on the nature of hearing and communication. Students learn about hearing and human communication by investigating the diversity of languages and their acquisition (Getting the Message). Students then explore the multisensory nature of communication and classify the types of sounds in their environment (Sound Communication). Students proceed to learn how sound is studied by scientists. They are introduced to the concepts of loudness and pitch, and they learn how these concepts relate to hearing and hearing loss in humans (Do You Hear What I Hear?). Students are then introduced to the hearing pathway and the concept of transduction in A Black Box Problem: How Do I Hear? In the final lesson, students evaluate the risk of noise-induced hearing loss for fictitious individuals. They also consider whether their own lifestyle places them at risk (Too Loud, Too Close, Too Long). The table below illustrates the scientific content and conceptual flow of the five lessons.

Science Content and Conceptual Flow of the Lessons
Lesson and Learning Focus* Topics Covered and Major Concepts

1: Getting the Message

Engage: Students become engaged in the study of hearing, communication, and understanding.

Distinguishing between hearing and communication.

  • Hearing involves sound, while understanding involves the brain.

Relating the concept of critical period to language acquisition.

  • There is a critical period during which language acquisition takes place.

2: Sound Communication

Explore: Students watch and listen to human speech. They explore the multisensory nature of human communication. The Explore phase gives students a common set of experiences upon which to begin building their understanding.

Communication is multisensory.

  • The most effective communication is multisensory.
  • Sound is a powerful and important means of communication.

Sounds can be environmental, voiced, and musical.

  • There are three types of sound: environmental, voiced, and musical.

3: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Explore/Explain: Students generate a hearing-response curve. They also listen to recordings that simulate hearing loss. Students express their understanding of the relationships among loudness, pitch, and hearing.

Characteristics of loudness and pitch.

  • Loudness and pitch are distinct properties of sound.
  • Loudness is related to the amplitude of the sound wave; pitch is related to its frequency.

The human hearing response and hearing loss.

  • Humans do not hear all pitches equally well.
  • The loudness of very-low- and very-high-pitched sounds must be increased for them to be detected.
  • A healthy sense of hearing is characterized by the recognition of a wide spectrum of pitches.
  • Hearing loss may involve failure to detect specific pitches.

4: A Black Box Problem: How Do I Hear?

Elaborate: Students deepen their understanding of hearing by investigating the parts of the hearing pathway and their functions.

The components of the hearing pathway and their functions.

  • The hearing pathway processes sound in a series of steps that involve different structures within the ear.
  • Hearing requires the passage of vibrational energy from one medium to another, as well as its conversion to electrical energy (in the form of nerve impulses).
  • Damage to specific parts of the hearing pathway results in predictable changes in hearing.

The process of transduction.

  • Transduction is the conversion of vibrational energy into electrical energy that occurs in the cochlea.

5: Too Loud, Too Close, Too Long

Elaborate/Evaluate: Students reflect on what they learned in the module in the context of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). They evaluate risks for NIHL for several fictitious individuals as well as for themselves and recommend ways to reduce these risks.

Understanding occurs in the brain.

  • Understanding what one hears occurs in the brain.
  • Damage to specific parts of the hearing pathway results in predictable changes in hearing.

Characteristics, causes, and prevention of noise-induced hearing loss.

  • Noise-induced hearing loss leads to an inability to hear and understand speech and other sounds at normal loudness levels.
  • Noise-induced hearing loss can be temporary or permanent.
  • Noise-induced hearing loss can result from a one-time exposure to extremely loud sound, repeated or long-term exposure to loud sound, or extended exposure to moderate sound.
  • Noise-induced hearing loss can happen to people of all ages.
  • The best way to protect one’s hearing is to avoid loud noise whenever possible.
*See How Does the 5E Instructional Model Promote Active, Collaborative, Inquiry-Based Learning?

How Does the Module Correlate with the National Science Education Standards?

National Science Education Standards icon How Your Brain Understands What Your Ear Hears supports teachers in their efforts to reform science education in the spirit of the National Research Council’s 1996 National Science Education Standards (NSES). The content is explicitly standards based. Each time a standard is addressed in a lesson, an icon appears in the margin and the applicable standard is identified. The Content Standards chart below lists the specific content standards that this module addresses.

Content Standards: Grades 5–8
Standard A: As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop Correlation to How Your Brain Understands What Your Ear Hears
Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry  
  • Identify questions that can be answered through scientific investigations.
Lesson 4
  • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.
Lesson 3
  • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence.
Lessons 3, 4
  • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.
Lessons 3, 4, 5
  • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions.
Lessons 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Communicate scientific procedures and explanations.
Lessons 2, 4, 5
  • Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry.
Lessons 3, 5
Understandings about scientific inquiry  
  • Different kinds of questions suggest different kinds of scientific investigations. Some investigations involve observing and describing objects, organisms, or events; some involve collecting specimens; some involve experiments; some involve seeking more information; some involve discovery of new objects; and some involve making models.
All Lessons
  • Mathematics is important in all aspects of scientific inquiry.
Lessons 3, 5
Standard B: As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop an understanding of
Transfer of energy  
  • Energy is a property of many substances and is associated with heat, light, electricity, mechanical motion, sound, nuclei, and the nature of a chemical. Energy is transferred in many ways.
Lesson 4
Standard C: As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop an understanding of
Structure and function in living systems  
  • Living systems at all levels of organization demonstrate the complementary nature of structure and function. Important levels of organization for structure and function include cells, organs, tissues, organ systems, whole organisms, and ecosystems.
Lesson 4
  • Specialized cells perform specialized functions in multicellular organisms. Groups of specialized cells cooperate to form a tissue, such as muscle. Different tissues are in turn grouped together to form larger functional units, called organs. Each type of cell, tissue, and organ has a distinct structure and set of functions that serve the organism as a whole.
Lesson 4
  • Disease is a breakdown in structures or functions of an organism. Some diseases are the result of intrinsic failures of the system. Others are the result of damage by infection by other organisms.
Lessons 3, 4, 5
Regulation and behavior  
  • Behavior is one kind of response an organism can make to an internal or environmental stimulus.
Lessons 1, 2, 5
Standard E: As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop
Understandings about science and technology  
  • Science and technology are reciprocal. Science helps drive technology. Technology is essential to science, because it provides instruments and techniques that enable observations of objects and phenomena that are otherwise unobservable.
Lessons 3, 4, 5
  • Technological solutions have intended benefits and unintended consequences.
Lesson 5
Standard F: As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop an understanding of
Personal health  
  • The potential for accidents and the existence of hazards imposes the need for injury prevention. Safe living involves the development and use of safety precautions and the recognition of risk in personal decisions.
Lesson 5
Risks and benefits  
  • Risk analysis considers the type of hazard and estimates the number of people who might be exposed and the number likely to suffer consequences. The results are used to determine the options for reducing or eliminating risks.
Lesson 5
  • Important personal and social decisions are made based on perceptions of benefits and risks.
Lesson 5
Science and technology in society  
  • Technology influences society through its products and processes. Technology influences the quality of life and the ways people act and interact.
Lessons 4, 5
Standard G: As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop an understanding of
Science as a human endeavor  
  • Science requires different abilities, depending on such factors as the field of study and type of inquiry. Science is very much a human endeavor, and the work of science relies on basic human qualities, such as reasoning, insight, energy, skills, and creativity.
All Lessons
Nature of science  
  • Scientists formulate and test their explanations of nature using observation, experiments, and theoretical and mathematical models.
Lessons 3, 4

Teaching Standards

The suggested teaching strategies in all of the lessons support teachers as they work to meet the teaching standards outlined in the National Science Education Standards. This module helps teachers of science plan an inquiry-based science program by providing short-term objectives for students. It also includes planning tools such as the Science Content and Conceptual Flow of the Lessons table and the Suggested Timeline for teaching the module. Teachers can use this module to update their curriculum in response to their students’ interest in this topic. The focus on active, collaborative, and inquiry-based learning in the lessons helps teachers support the development of student understanding and nurture a community of science learners.

The structure of the lessons in this module enables teachers to guide and facilitate learning. All of the activities encourage and support student inquiry, promote discourse among students, and challenge students to accept and share responsibility for their learning. The use of the 5E Instructional Model, combined with active, collaborative learning, allows teachers to respond effectively to the diversity of student backgrounds and learning styles. The module is fully annotated, with suggestions for how teachers can encourage and model the skills of scientific inquiry, as well as foster curiosity, openness to new ideas and data, and skepticism, which characterize the study of science.

Assessment Standards

Teachers can engage in ongoing assessment of their teaching and of student learning using the variety of assessment components embedded within the module’s structure. The assessment tasks are authentic; they are similar to tasks that students will engage in outside the classroom or to practices in which scientists participate. Annotations guide teachers to these opportunities for assessment and provide answers to questions that can help teachers analyze student feedback.

How Does the 5E Instructional Model Promote Active, Collaborative, Inquiry-Based Learning?

Because learning does not occur by way of passive absorption, the lessons in this module promote active learning. Students are involved in more than listening and reading. They are developing skills, analyzing and evaluating evidence, experiencing and discussing, and talking to their peers about their own understanding. Students work collaboratively with others to solve problems and plan investigations. Many students find that they learn better when they work with others in a collaborative environment than when they work alone in a competitive environment. When active, collaborative learning is directed toward scientific inquiry, students succeed in making their own discoveries. They ask questions, observe, analyze, explain, draw conclusions, and ask new questions. These inquiry-based experiences include both those that involve students in direct experimentation and those in which students develop explanations through critical and logical thinking.

The viewpoint that students are active thinkers who construct their own understanding from interactions with phenomena, the environment, and other individuals is based on the theory of constructivism. A constructivist view of learning recognizes that students need time to

This module provides a built-in structure for creating a constructivist classroom: the 5E Instructional Model. The 5E model sequences the learning experiences so that students have the opportunity to construct their understanding of a concept over time. The model leads students through five phases of learning that are easily described using words that begin with the letter E: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. The following paragraphs illustrate how the five Es are implemented across the lessons in this module.


Students come to learning situations with prior knowledge. This knowledge may or may not be congruent with the concepts presented in this module. The Engage lesson provides the opportunity for teachers to find out what students already know or think they know about the topic and concepts to be covered.

The Engage lesson in this module, Lesson 1: Getting the Message, is designed to


In the Explore phase of the module, Lesson 2: Sound Communication, and Lesson 3: Do You Hear What I Hear?, students investigate the multisensory nature of human communication and communicating by way of sounds in their environment. Students also investigate the characteristics of sound, such as loudness and pitch. These lessons provide a common set of experiences within which students can begin to construct their understanding. Students


The Explain lesson provides opportunities for students to connect their previous experiences and to begin to make conceptual sense of the main ideas of the module. This stage also allows for the introduction of formal language, scientific terms, and content information that might make students’ previous experiences easier to describe. The Explain lesson for this module, Lesson 3: Do You Hear What I Hear?, encourages students to


In Elaborate lessons, students apply or extend previously introduced concepts in new situations and relate their previous experiences to new ones. In the Elaborate lesson in this module, Lesson 4: A Black Box Problem: How Do I Hear?, students


The Evaluate lesson is the final stage of the instructional model, but it only provides a “snapshot” of what the students understand and how far they have come from where they began. In reality, the evaluation of students’ conceptual understanding and ability to use skills begins with the Engage lesson and continues throughout each stage of the instructional model, as described in the following section. Combined with the students’ written work and performance of tasks throughout the module, however, the Evaluate lesson can serve as a summative assessment of what students know and can do.

The Evaluate lesson in this module, Lesson 5: Too Loud, Too Close, Too Long, provides an opportunity for students to

To review the relationship of the 5E Instructional Model to the concepts presented in the module, see the table titled Science Content and Conceptual Flow of the Lessons.

When a teacher uses the 5E Instructional Model, he or she engages in practices that are very different from those of a traditional teacher. In response, students also learn in ways that are different from those experienced in a traditional classroom. The following charts, What the Teacher Does and What the Students Do, outline these differences.

What the Teacher Does
Stage That is consistent with the 5E Instructional Model That is inconsistent with the 5E Instructional Model
  • Piques students’ curiosity and generates interest
  • Determines students’ current understanding (prior knowledge) of a concept or idea
  • Invites students to express what they think
  • Invites students to raise their own questions
  • Introduces vocabulary
  • Explains concepts
  • Provides definitions and answers
  • Provides closure
  • Discourages students’ ideas and questions
  • Encourages student-to-student interaction
  • Observes and listens to the students as they interact
  • Asks probing questions to help students make sense of their experiences
  • Provides time for students to puzzle through problems
  • Provides answers
  • Proceeds too rapidly for students to make sense of their experiences
  • Provides closure
  • Tells students that they are wrong
  • Gives information and facts that solve the problem
  • Leads students step-by-step to a solution
  • Encourages students to use their common experiences and data from the Engage and Explore lessons to develop explanations
  • Asks questions that help students express understanding and explanations
  • Requests justification (evidence) for students’ explanations
  • Provides time for students to compare their ideas with those of others and perhaps to revise their thinking
  • Introduces terminology and alternative explanations after students express their ideas
  • Neglects to solicit students’ explanations
  • Ignores data and information students gathered from previous lessons
  • Dismisses students’ ideas
  • Accepts explanations that are not supported by evidence
  • Introduces unrelated concepts or skills
  • Focuses students’ attention on conceptual connections between new and former experiences
  • Encourages students to use what they have learned to explain a new event or idea
  • Reinforces students’ use of scientific terms and descriptions previously introduced
  • Asks questions that help students draw reasonable conclusions from evidence and data
  • Neglects to help students connect new and former experiences
  • Provides definitive answers
  • Tells students that they are wrong
  • Leads students step-by-step to a solution
  • Observes and records as students demonstrate their understanding of concept(s) and performance of skills
  • Provides time for students to compare their ideas with those of others and perhaps to revise their thinking
  • Interviews students as a means of assessing their developing understanding
  • Encourages students to assess their own progress
  • Tests vocabulary words, terms, and isolated facts
  • Introduces new ideas or concepts
  • Creates ambiguity
  • Promotes open-ended discussion unrelated to the concept or skill
What the Students Do
Stage That is consistent with the 5E Instructional Model That is inconsistent with the 5E Instructional Model
  • Become interested in and curious about the concept/topic
  • Express current understanding of a concept or idea
  • Raise questions such as, What do I already know about this? What do I want to know about this? How could I find out?
  • Ask for the “right” answer
  • Offer the “right” answer
  • Insist on answers or explanations
  • Seek closure
  • “Mess around” with materials and ideas
  • Conduct investigations in which they observe, describe, and record data
  • Try different ways to solve a problem or answer a question
  • Acquire a common set of experiences so they can compare results and ideas
  • Compare their ideas with those of others
  • Let others do the thinking and exploring (passive involvement)
  • Work quietly with little or no interaction with others (only appropriate when exploring ideas or feelings)
  • Stop with one solution
  • Demand or seek closure
  • Explain concepts and ideas in their own words
  • Base their explanations on evidence acquired during previous investigations
  • Record their ideas and current understanding
  • Reflect on and perhaps revise their ideas
  • Express their ideas using appropriate scientific language
  • Compare their ideas with what scientists know and understand
  • Propose explanations from “thin air” with no relationship to previous experiences
  • Bring up irrelevant experiences and examples
  • Accept explanations without justification
  • Ignore or dismiss other plausible explanations
  • Propose explanations without evidence to support their ideas
  • Make conceptual connections between new and former experiences
  • Use what they have learned to explain a new object, event, organism, or idea
  • Use scientific terms and descriptions
  • Draw reasonable conclusions from evidence and data
  • Communicate their understanding to others
  • Demonstrate what they understand about the concept(s) and how well they can implement a skill
  • Ignore previous information or evidence
  • Draw conclusions from “thin air”
  • Use terminology inappropriately and without understanding
  • Compare their current thinking with that of others and perhaps revise their ideas
  • Assess their own progress by comparing their current understanding with their prior knowledge
  • Ask new questions that take them deeper into a concept or topic area
  • Disregard evidence or previously accepted explanations in drawing conclusions
  • Offer only yes-or-no answers or memorized definitions or explanations as answers
  • Fail to express satisfactory explanations in their own words
  • Introduce new, irrelevant topics

How Does the Module Support Ongoing Assessment?

Because teachers will use this module in a variety of ways and at a variety of points in the curriculum, the most appropriate mechanism for assessing student learning is one that occurs informally at various points within the lessons, rather than just once at the end of the module. Accordingly, integrated within the lessons in the module are specific assessment components. These “embedded” assessment opportunities include one or more of the following strategies:

These strategies allow the teacher to assess a variety of aspects of the learning process, such as students’ prior knowledge and current understanding, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, level of understanding of new information, communication skills, and ability to synthesize ideas and apply understanding to a new situation.

assessment iconAn assessment icon and an annotation that describes the aspect of learning that teachers can assess appear in the margin beside each step in which embedded assessment occurs.

How Can Teachers Promote Safety in the Science Classroom?

Even simple science demonstrations and investigations can be hazardous unless teachers and students know and follow safety precautions. Teachers are responsible for providing students with active instruction concerning their conduct and safety in the classroom. Posting rules in a classroom is not enough; teachers also need to provide adequate supervision and advance warning if there are dangers involved in the science investigation. By maintaining equipment in proper working order, teachers ensure a safe environment for students.

The following are important ways to implement and maintain a safety program:

How Can Controversial Topics Be Handled in the Classroom?

Teachers sometimes feel that the discussion of values is inappropriate in the science classroom or that it detracts from the learning of “real” science. The lessons in this module, however, are based upon the conviction that there is much to be gained by involving students in analyzing issues of science, technology, and society. Society expects all citizens to participate in the democratic process, and our educational system must provide opportunities for students to learn to deal with contentious issues with civility, objectivity, and fairness. Likewise, students need to learn that science intersects with life in many ways.

In this module, students are given a variety of opportunities to discuss, interpret, and evaluate basic science and health issues, some in light of their values and ethics. As students encounter issues about which they feel strongly, some discussions might become controversial. The degree of controversy will depend on many factors, such as how similar the students are with respect to socioeconomic status, perspectives, value systems, and religious preferences. In addition, the language and attitude of the teacher factor into the flow of ideas and the quality of exchange among the students.

The following guidelines may help teachers facilitate discussions that balance factual information with feelings.

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