Anybody can teach science: Does ear shape affect ability to hear?

Teach science with tape and paper—it’s that easy!

You don’t need all the answers to teach science—you simply need an inquisitive mind and be willing to carry out an investigation. You can teach science, even when you don’t know diddly-squat! The following is a simple experiment you can try with a tape and paper. The purpose is not to teach specific content, but to teach the process of science: asking questions and discovering answers. This activity is to encourage young people to try to figure things out for themselves rather than just read an answer on the internet or in a book.

Can you hear better with paper ears?

This activity can be done in 20 minutes or multiple days, depending on the interest and questions the youth have. Materials needed are paper, scissors and tape (optional: blindfolds).

Use Science and Engineering Practices to engage youth in the experiment. These are connected to in-school science standards that all children must meet.

  • Asking questions and defining problems
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigation
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using mathematics and computational thinking
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Asking questions and defining problems

Do animals hear differently than humans? Why do you think that is? Do some animals hear better than others? Do you think ear shape or size has anything to do with how well an animal can hear? What animals do you think hear the best? How do you know what animal hears the best?

Developing and using models

Ask youth to make ears shaped like animal ears out of paper and tape. Try upright ears, floppy ears, elephant ears—all kinds of ears. How is each ear you made like an animal’s ear? If you were to wear the animal shaped ear on your ear, how big would it need to be?

Planning and carrying out investigations

Have the students stand a set distance apart and whisper to each other. How well do they hear? Repeat the experiment holding the animal-shaped ears around their ear. Did the animal-shaped ear improve your hearing? Is there a way to quantify or measure how it changes your hearing?

Using mathematics and computational thinking

Should you adjust the ear size to account for differences in head size between a human’s head and an animal’s head? How would you determine how big the ear should be? How do you measure a head? How do you compare heads’ and ears’ sizes when the shapes are so different?

Constructing explanations and designing solutions

Does ear size make a difference in hearing? Does ear shape make a difference in hearing?

Engaging in argument from evidence

Could you predict how well an animal can hear by looking at its ears? Why or why not? Could we give people who are hard-of-hearing different shaped ears so they could hear better? Why or why not?

Related questions to explore

  • With goats, some breeds have floppy ears, some have upright ears and some have almost no ears at all. Does this affect their ability to hear? How could you test an animal’s ability to hear?
  • Could you do a similar experiment with noses and the ability to smell?

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