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Sound Localization Activity

Activity Description

“Hearsay” is a hands-on activity where students test their auditory system’s ability to localize sounds Students learn that our sensory systems are not perfect and that our sensory experience is shaped by the physical properties of the stimuli, as well as the physical properties of the sensory system.

This activity is designed to come after students have already completed an initial activity based on the visual system, and is designed to act as an intermediary between the visual system activity and investigations into the vestibular system.

This activity can be adapted to include discussions about evolutionary biology and the structure of non-human auditory systems.


Estimated Time of Activity

The actual auditory localization activity is designed to take 1 to 2 class periods, depending on set-up.  The assignments may be completed in additional classroom time or as homework.  A total of 4 - 5 class periods of time are needed to complete all materials if done in class.
The assignments may be completed in additional classroom time or as homework.


Activity Objectives

Students will begin to understand the limitations of our sensory systems and how the structure of our sensory systems leads to these limitations.  Students will use experimental observations to formulate hypotheses about the nervous system.


Universal Design for Learning (Differentiation)

This activity is student-guided and inquiry based.


Activity Instructions

Students should each be given a copy of the Instructions/Data Collection Sheet.

  1. Mark an X with masking tape on the floor in the center of the classroom (this activity can also be conducted outside if available).
  2. Use the yardstick or measuring tape to mark off distances 8, 16, and 24f feet away from the X, and in different directions (one forward, one backward, and one to each side).  This is 12 locations in total.  See data sheet below for a diagram of how this will look.
  3. Have a student stand on the X in the center with their eyes covered.  Their task will be to identify the location from which they hear a sound.
  4. Start off with one of the frequency sounds and play it in a random order from each location, and record on the data sheet attached below how good the subject was at guessing the location.
  5. Do the same for the other two frequencies.
  6. As time allows, have other students be the person in the center and test how good they are at localizing the different frequencies.
  7. Have students develop hypotheses about why localization ability is different for different frequencies and different directions.


NYS/CCL Standards (Content Knowledge, IAD)

Identify the standards the activity is aligned with.

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Homework:  Have students answer these questions in their notebooks as homework after their data are collected.
Directions: Answer each of these questions in your notebook.

Was localization ability the same for each frequency?  If not, how was it different?

Was localization ability the same for each direction?  If not, how was it different?

Did direction matter for some frequencies more than others?

Was localization ability the same for each person?



During the next class period, have students go over their data together as a class, ensuring that everyone has the same data.

Brainstorm ways in which the data can be analyzed and represented:
For example:
  You can compare the percentage correct overall for each direction.
  You can compare the percentage correct overall for each frequency.
  Further analyses can look for an interaction between direction and frequency.

Make one figure together as a class to represent one of the above comparisons.

Students are asked to tabulate all of the results and write up a lab report including the following components:


Lab Report Rubric



  1. Three sources of sound: one low, one medium, and one high frequency.  For examples, see

which includes downloadable audio files. 

A good selection would be:

Low: C3 Lowest note on viola

Med: C4 Middle C

High: C8 Highest note on standard 88-key piano

These files can be loaded onto an mp3 player and played through external speakers.

Feel free to use other readily available sound sources!

  1. Masking tape
  2. A yard stick or measuring tape



Depending on the level of the class, subsequent lessons can be added that address the structure of the auditory system, the neurological basis of sound localization, and auditory systems of other species.  Slides detailing the different strategies used by the auditory system to localize sound can be found below.

Sound Localization Slides


Instructor’s Notes

For a good description of how to write a lab report, see: