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On the same wavelength
GBHS physics students study sound with homemade instruments
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Four students collaborate on percussion, chimes and horns to play the GBHS Fight Song. Pictured musicians are, from left: Matt Phillips, Malachi Williams, Matt Zorn and Alex Smith. - photo by Courtesy of Great Bend USD 428

Students in Jessica Nairn’s sixth-hour physic class at Great Bend High School recently completed a unit on sound by building musical instruments using household materials. They were tasked with creating instruments capable of producing an octave.

“Students were highly encouraged NOT to purchase supplies, but many of them had grand ideas so I set a ($15) budget,” Nairn said. Students worked individually creating the instruments which included xylophones, chimes, horns, recorders, finger pianos and guitars.

An audience gathered in the physics classroom for “Performance Day” on February 14. Spectators included fellow students, USD 428 administrators and other faculty members who popped in to see what all the commotion was about.

“Many of them are in band and I asked them to perform the GBHS Fight Song, which they did flawlessly,” Nairn said.

“It’s obvious that Ms. Nairn’s physics class is comprised of many intelligent students as well as enthusiastic musicians,” Superintendent Khris Thexton said. “We were impressed by all of their efforts. While it pushed some students out of their comfort zone, their instruments, as well as their presentation of the creative and construction process, was impressive.”

The purpose of this lesson went beyond music appreciation, however. After building the instruments, the students gathered frequency data. With that information and the speed of sound (about 343 meters per second at 68 degrees Fahrenheit), they calculated wavelengths and compared their data to the known wavelengths to see how accurate their notes and instruments were.

“From the data collected, Daniel Abbott (PVC Saxophone) and Jordan Popp (PVC Xylophone) had five notes with 0 percent error, while most students had less than 3 percent error per note,” Nairn said. “This really adds to the fact they took great pride in their work and that they made a sincere effort to ensure a quality project was made.

“By the smiles on their faces, it’s easy to see they enjoyed this hands-on application exploring sound, frequency, wavelengths and more,” Nairn said. To her students she added, “Great job making physics come to life.”

See the video of the GBHS Fight Song on Facebook at