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Building Polymer Cup Speakers

Grades: 9-12
Author: William Alkire, Susan Rhoades, Don Sobnoskyl
Source: Al Gunther, BER Handbook Physical Science 6-12


Students will establish criteria by which to test their speakers. Students will construct and test their speaker. The students will compare speakers and test variable components of a speaker.


What should students know as a result of this lesson?

  • How a speaker works
  • How energy is changed from electrical energy to vibrational energy (sound)
  • How to determine and manipulate the pertinent variables in an experiment

What should the students be able to do as a result of this lesson?

  • How to make a speaker from a cup, a coil, and a magnet
  • How to establish criteria to determine what makes the “best” sound
  • How to test the various plastic cups to determine which is best as a speaker
  • How to determine and manipulate the pertinent variables in an experiment


  • Various Polymer cups
  • Ring (donut) magnets# 22 enamel coated copper wire
  • CD player or MP3 player or sound generator (from physics lab) ( needs audio output)
  • Audio cable w/bare wire ends to connect sound source to speaker (Audio cable with molded 3.5 mm mono miniplug and stripped ends)
  • Double-sided sticky tape
  • Super glue
  • Electrical tape
  • Ohm meter to check resistance to prevent blowing out circuits in sound source
  • Wirecutter
  • Sand paper or emery cloth, fine grain.



  1. Teacher plays music thru CD player, emphasizing sound differences w/ and w/out bass.
  2. Teacher reviews how sound waves travel by asking students to explain what they remember.
  3. Teacher introduces challenge of making a speaker from scratch.
    • assigns students to production teams to construct new style of audio speaker
    • discusses procedures for procurement of materials
    • establishes with class the criteria for determining speaker quality based on “fair” test: 1) must be audible; 2) must be able to distinguish changes in bass/treble sounds; 3) must be able to distinguish individual words/meanings of words

Assessment: Make sure that all students understand the task and how this will be evaluated against the criteria established by the class.


Students work together to research what makes a good speaker; if available, the students could take apart some old, broken speakers to see how these are wired.

  1. Students work in teams to make cup speaker.
  2. Students must demonstrate a working speaker.
  3. Teacher circulates around factory to monitor student progress.


Students explain their choice of speakers to development team based on clarity, volume and bass.Students are evaluated on the basis of:

  1. quality of construction
  2. clarity of sound
  3. ability to distinguish sounds according to volume changes
  4. ability to distinguish sounds according to bass changes

Assessment: How does the teacher bring the discussion around to polymer materials?


Students can extend experiments by controlling variables:

  1. number of magnets
  2. magnet strength
  3. number of coilsd. methods of attachment of coilse. methods of attachment of magnets.


Direct Instruction: Teacher discusses directions to make speaker.

Cooperative Learning: Production teams will work cooperatively according to team divisions.



Basic knowledge of the physics of sound, properties of waves

General knowledge of parts of speaker

Experience searching the Internet for information

Best Teaching Practices

  • Inquiry
  • Student-centered Instruction
  • Authentic Assessment
  • Hands-on/Minds-on Learning

Alignment with Standards

NGSS Standards:

  • HS-PS3-3 Design, build and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy to another form of energy.

Common Core Standards:

  • RST.9-10.3 Follow pecisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks, attending to special cases or exceptions defined in the text

National Standards:

  • Physical Science 9-12, Content Standard B

Ohio Standards:

  • Physical Sciences: Nature of Matter # 9, Nature of Energy # 15
  • Science and Technology # 2
  • Scientific Inquiry A

Content Knowledge





Audio speakers of all types.


This lesson was designed to incorporate the Learning Cycle. Student Assessment is embedded in the four major components of the lesson. See Learning Strategies button above.

Other Considerations

Grouping Suggestions: Teams should consist of: Procurement manager Intellectual property manager (recorder) CEO (task manager) Engineer.

Pacing/Suggested Time: This less should take two (2) classroom periods or one (1) block period. The teams should consist of a Procurement Manager, an Intellectual Property Manager (recorder), a CEO (task master), and an Engineer.

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