Materials Needed
  • Rubber ball (1 total)
  • Blindfolds (1 per student)

Prep Steps
  • Review Classroom Activity lesson plan
  • Review Instructional Goal
  • Prepare materials
  • Organize student pairs (optional)

Step 1: Explain Echolocation

Explain the process of echolocation to your students, using the information in the Introduction, the animation of the bat and the tree , or any other resource you feel accurately and appropriately describes the concept. Give multiple examples for both animals and humans (human technology). The main takeaway for students in this age group is that, by sending out sounds to bounce off of objects, we can figure out where they are in our environment.

UDL Tip: Students may gain access to this explanation in several different ways. Be sure to either allow students the freedom to choose between your explanation, the text in the introduction, or the animation, or to employ all of these methods in sequence so that every student has the opportunity to access the explanation in some way.

Step 2: Address the Conceptual Challenge

Some students may have a hard time understanding this idea since sounds are invisible (how can they bounce off of objects?). Explain to your students that our voices can sometimes act as messengers that go out from our mouths, into the environment, and back to our ears again. Use a rubber ball to demonstrate this physically. Take a position in your classroom where you are close to one wall and further away from another. Tell your students that the ball represents your voice. Throw it at the far wall and catch it as it comes back to you. Do the same for the closer wall. Do they see the difference? Explain that, since the ball took longer to return from the further wall you would be able to tell that it was further away. Our voices act like the rubber ball in echolocation. Ask, "How is the ball like your voice?"

UDL Tip: Students will most likely be highly engaged with this activity and even want to throw the ball themselves. This is a great opportunity to get your students personally invested in the lesson. You can ask students to imagine or share with the class a time when they've thrown something and had it bounce back to them. Keep this sharing time brief (it could go on forever!), but be sure not to stifle the students' sharing as it will reinforce the concept and give it more meaning.

Step 3: Set up the Activity

Explain to your students that they will now be practicing echolocation firsthand. Before distributing the blindfolds, group your students into pairs so that they have partners to work with in the activity. Take the time to pair students who will work well together or learn uniquely from each other (especially if you have students with physical disabilities). Distribute the blindfolds and instruct students to stand with their partners near parts of the classroom walls.

Once your students are assembled in pairs around the perimeter of the classroom like in the diagram above, take them through the following steps:

  • One student in each pair puts on the blindfold. Go around to make sure the students are able to wear them correctly. Tell the students who do not have the blindfold on to watch their partner carefully to make sure he or she doesn't get hurt. Remind them that it'll be their turn next.
  • Have the blindfolded students put both of their hands against the wall, with their faces 6-12 inches from it. Tell their partners to help them get into this position.
  • Ask the blindfolded students to pick a word or a sound that will act as their rubber ball. They will be bouncing this noise off of the wall to experience echolocation. If students are having trouble picking sounds, suggest simple ones like "Hello," or click! Encourage students to pick sounds that they will have fun with!
  • Now instruct the blindfolded students to remove their hands and slowly - slowly! - move their faces toward the wall while making their sound. They can make the sound each time they move or constantly. As they get closer to the wall, they should be able to sense, by the sound of their own voices, how close they are. Ask, "How can you tell you're getting closer?"
  • Have the partners switch roles and repeat the activity.

UDL Tip: Students with physical disabilities can participate in this activity too! For students who are not able to stand or move themselves closer to the wall, have their partner hold a sheet of stiff paper or cardboard increasingly closer to the student's face as he or she says their sound. For students who are hearing-impaired, have them stand in a place where there are many objects to touch and have them use a stick to "feel" what they are seeing.

Step 4: Collect Thinking

Ask, "What happened in that activity?" Revisit the question of how our voices act like the rubber ball in the earlier demonstration. Guide the discussion toward the original explanation of echolocation, and see if students are able to explain that sounds can help us navigate our environment. An easy entry into gauging that understanding is asking the question, "How can you tell you were getting closer to the wall?"

NEXT: For additional enrichment with the topic of echolocation, check out the Individual Activity.