ALEX Learning Activity


Talking to Fireflies

A Learning Activity is a strategy a teacher chooses to actively engage students in learning a concept or skill using a digital tool/resource.

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  This learning activity provided by:  
Author: Ginger Boyd
System:Geneva County
School:Samson Middle School
  General Activity Information  
Activity ID: 1995
Talking to Fireflies
Digital Tool/Resource:
American Museum of Natural History - Ology
Web Address – URL:

In this learning activity, students will visit the American Museum of Natural History website to learn about fireflies and how they communicate. They will compare the communication pattern of fireflies to Morse Code used by humans and practice communicating with fireflies through an interactive game. Finally, students will collaboratively create their own "code" to communicate with other students and send a message across the classroom using the Google Science Journal app. The Google Science Journal app gives real-time access to data from electronic motion, light, and sound sensors that are built into the device.

This activity results from the ALEX Resource Gap Project.

  Associated Standards and Objectives  
Content Standard(s):
SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 4
7 ) Develop and use models to show multiple solutions in which patterns are used to transfer information (e.g., using a grid of 1s and 0s representing black and white to send information about a picture, using drums to send coded information through sound waves, using Morse code to send a message).*

Unpacked Content
Scientific And Engineering Practices:
Developing and Using Models
Crosscutting Concepts: Patterns
Disciplinary Core Idea: Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer
Evidence Of Student Attainment:
  • Develop a model to show multiple solutions in which patterns are used to transfer information.
  • Use a model to show multiple solutions in which patterns are used to transfer information.
Teacher Vocabulary:
  • transmit
  • transfer
  • decoded
  • accuracy
  • digitized
  • convert
  • coded
  • signals
Students know:
  • About digitized information transfer. (e.g., information can be converted from a sound wave into digital signals such as patterns of 1s and 0s and vice versa; visual or verbal messages can be encoded in patterns of flashes of light to be decoded by someone else across the room).
  • Ways that high-tech devices convert and transmit information. (e.g., cell phones convert sound waves into digital signals, so they can be transmitted long distances, and then converted back into sound waves; a picture or message can be encoded using light signals to transmit the information over a long distance).
  • Information can be transmitted over long distances without significant degradation. High tech devices, such as computers or cell phones, can receive and decode information - convert form to voice - and vice versa.
Students are able to:
  • Generate multiple design solutions that use patterns to transmit a given piece of information.
  • Apply the engineering design process to develop a model to show multiple solutions to transfer information.
  • Describe the given criteria for the design solutions.
  • Describe the given constraints of the design solutions, including the distance over which information is transmitted, safety considerations, and materials available.
Students understand that:
  • Similarities and differences in the types of patterns used in the solutions to determine whether some ways of transmitting information are more effective than others and addressing the problem.
AMSTI Resources:
AMSTI Module:
Energy and Waves

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SCI.AAS.4.7- Identify models that show ways in which patterns are used to transfer information (using drums to send coded information through sound waves, using Morse code to send a message).

Learning Objectives:

The students will collaboratively develop and use models to show multiple solutions when using patterns to transfer information.

  Strategies, Preparations and Variations  

Introduce the learning activity by visiting the following website with the students:  American Museum of Natural History. Together with the students, read through Flashy Fireflies and lead a discussion on the comparison of Morse Code to the communication of fireflies. As a whole class on the interactive whiteboard, complete the "Try It" section together under What's the Pattern? This section might take a couple of tries!  

Place students in small groups (three students per group). Make sure each group has an internet connected device. Allow time for students to practice "Try It" under Talk to Fireflies. Each student in the group should have a turn "communicating" in this interactive game.

Challenge the students to collaboratively (as a class) develop a communication pattern (their own code). Students need to develop a code for motion (vibration) such as hitting their fist on the desk, a code for sound such as clapping their hands or snapping their fingers, and a code for light such as using the flashlight. 

Then, students will break off into small groups (three per group) and practice sending each other "signals" with one group sending the "code" and the other group using Google Science Journal to receive the "code". Students should practice all three types of "codes" (motion, sound, and light), then alternate sending and receiving their "codes".

Teachers may want to show the students the following video about how to use the Google Science Journal if they are unfamiliar with this app.

Assessment Strategies:

Students should be assessed on successfully sending and receiving a motion, sound, and light "code" between their groups.  

Advanced Preparation:

Teachers will need a projector, an interactive whiteboard, and internet connected computer to connect to the website. Students will need internet connected devices. The teacher should be familiar with the Google Science Journal app and with the interactive games on the American Museum of Natural History prior to completing this learning activity during class. The students should be familiar with the Google Science Journal app. Each group will also need a small flashlight.  

Variation Tips (optional):

If students don't have access to internet connected devices, the interactive games can be done as a whole group activity and the groups can develop their "code" and communicate with each other using alternate methods such as flashlights, tapping their pencil on the desk, creating hand signals, mouth clicks, etc.

Notes or Recommendations (optional):

Directions for Google Science Journal app:

  • Open the "Linear accelerometer" (not the individual X, Y, or Z accelerometers) in graph mode, bang your fist next to your internet connected device. You should see spikes in the graph when you bang your fist (the graph might show multiple smaller spikes each time you bang your fist since the device might bounce a bit). The peaks will get smaller as you move the device farther away.
  • Open the microphone in graph mode and clap your hands or make another brief, loud noise near the internet connected device. You should see clear peaks in the graph. These peaks will get smaller as the device gets farther away, and will be harder to make out in a noisy room.
  • Open the light sensor in graph mode and aim a flashlight at the internet connected device's light sensor (camera). You should see an increase on the graph. Depending on the strength of your flashlight and brightness of the room, if you move it too far away, it might be drowned out by the ambient light levels.
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