What is echolocation?

Echolocation is the use of sound to discriminate between objects in an environment. It is, in other words, the process of "seeing" by sound. Animals that either lack proper vision or have little use for it in their environments, such as bats and whales , use echolocation to navigate their habitats to locate food, community, and shelter.

Animals are not the only creatures that use echolocation, however. We humans use it, too! Of course most of us don't rely on our ears as much as our eyes to "see" our environments, but that doesn't mean that sound plays an unimportant role in telling us where we're going. In fact, sometimes sound plays a very important role. Think about submarines: they use a type of echolocation called sonar to travel in water where there is no light to see. Without echolocation, submarines would be lost, many animals would not be able to fly or swim, and we humans would not be able to explore our environments the way we do now.

The following pages will describe the fascinating process of echolocation in a universally-designed, interactive lesson plan. Students will experience the phenomenon firsthand in a classroom activity and also have the opportunity to reflect upon the miracle of their sensory modalities through individual work. This animation may be used to introduce the concept of echolocation to your students:

Teachers, feel free to use this animation to help your students visualize the process of echolocation. Use your judgement as to whether the voiceover will be beneficial or distracting to your teaching of the concept. Download/View

NEXT: Continue to the Instructional Goal to see why learning about echolocation is valuable for students.