Build A Speaker Challenge


This week the students in Music +STEM participated in the Build A Speaker Challenge!  

The scenario for the challenge was one many of us have experienced ….

A new song/video just came out that you want to share with your friends but all you have is your phone to play it on. You turn it on but it’s not loud enough for everyone to hear. Turning it up all the way distorts the sound, but you don’t have a extra speaker to plug it into.


Here’s the challenge students were given:

Hard at work designing and creating their speakers

Hard at work designing and creating their speakers

Build a speaker using only the supplies provided in the allotted time. 

The supplies consisted of

  • Up to 2 cups
  • Up to 2 sheets of construction paper
  • Up to 12 inches of masking tape

The goal:

Create a speaker that increases the decibel level of the audio of a phone

Students spent a day building their speakers.  They were allowed to work alone or in a group of two or three.  By the end of the day our classroom was filled with their inventions!


Day 2 was spent testing their speakers!

Here is the process we used:

  • We will measure a control level of decibels on a phone at a specified volume
  • We will then measure the level of decibels of the same sound being played using the speaker you create

Since it is difficult to find music that stays at the same volume, we used the “white noise” of a recorded hair dryer as our control sound.  We also made sure that everyone used the same phone at the same volume level. Decibels were measured with a decibel meter app.  We took a five second measurement for each speaker and used the average level provided by the app.

Testing their speakers with the decibel meter

Testing their speakers with the decibel meter

Of course, success was measured by the amount of increase in decibels, but students answered reflection questions to show more evidence of learning.

Questions like…

  • Is this the original design you created?  If not, what did you change along the way?  Why did you make those changes?
  • What improvements would you make to your speaker with the same supplies?  
  • What improvements would you make with more supplies and/or time

These questions help students focus on the process and the possibility for continued improvement in a project.  We found these questions to be especially important for students who had very little increase in sound – or even a decrease.  Most were able to suggest improvements from their own experience or by observing other students’ speakers.

The Results! 

The best results of the day were an increase of 6.5 decibels and 6.3 decibels.  The tension was high in many classes as students became silent to test their speakers and wait for the results.  Kids were truly impressed when they saw classmates achieving high numbers.


This was a great first building experience for our Music + STEM class.  Stay tuned to see us “toot our own horns” about what we make next!

3 responses »

    • Along with teaching music, I also embrace a STEM philosophy where we try to address 21st century skills. This was one of our first activities of the year and was meant to develop critical and creative thinking along with collaboration. Musically, it gets students thinking about how music relates to science and engineering.

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