A portrait of Ryan

Ryan was a Grade 6 boy who decided to investigate the acoustics of “Stadium design”. Table 4.19 contains the transcripts of Ryan’s three videos.


Table 4.19

Ryan’s video transcripts for “Stadium design”

Prior knowledge video

My subject is stadium design, and, based on acoustics, I don't know anything except I'm amazed how it can stand such sound and noise without you feeling it in your body.



Completed explanatory animation

This animation is focusing on the acoustics of stadium design and not how a stadium looks.

Sound can bounce back and forth in most stadiums like in this game of pong. The sound waves will eventually lose energy but there are a few simple things that can be done to reduce the sound which bounces around.

Parallel surfaces are part of the problem so using different angles will help stop the sound from going back and forth.

Soft surfaces will absorb much of the sound energy.

This pong visualisation is good for showing where the sound moves but the air itself doesn’t actually move around as that would be wind.

Sound waves travel by air molecules vibrating and passing these vibrations on.

Newton’s cradle is a better example of how sound waves travel.  It shows how energy is transferred through a substance without that substance having to change its position.

Director's commentary

When most people are thinking or they are designing a stadium, generally they’re thinking about their view that the spectator gets, not really how it sounds.

I made a bit of a mistake when it showed the, the ball losing energy and it just went straight to the ground.  Because I really should have shown it shrinking away because air, if it has no sound, doesn’t just fall to the ground.

I think the "Pong" visualisation was a bit of a breakthrough for me.  It enabled me to understand the subject much more than I did before.  I think that was just because I was watching something happening.

The "Newton’s cradle" was a breakthrough because it made much more sense and I understood what I was doing.


Introducing Ryan and his topic

Ryan played trumpet in the school orchestra so I knew him a little better than some of the other children due to our extra time and experiences together. My discussions with Ryan were often fruitful as he was very articulate and he displayed a natural sense of curiosity.

The acoustics of stadium design struck me as a particularly suitable topic for an explanatory animation. My reflection at the time was that it seemed like a “really promising topic. I like the way that it is inherently scientific, due to acoustics, and yet quite accessible as stadiums are frequented by multitudes of people” (Researcher’s reflexive journal, 22nd June 2011). As a music teacher, I also had an interest in acoustics so I was keen to see where this animation would take us.


Creating the ZPD with Ryan

Ryan tended to work independently for much of the time during the initial project sessions. I soon learned that Ryan was expecting me to provide content knowledge for him as evidenced by his reflection after the second session, “Umm, today I didn't learn anything. I was just starting to work on my animation of my stadium” (Student reflection, 28th July 2011). The following week I discussed ripples on a pond as a widely accepted metaphor for sound waves. Ryan appreciated this suggestion and soon incorporated ripples into his imagery as shown in Figure 4.27. “Today I learnt that ripples in a pond are a good way to describe what sound waves look like” (Student reflection, 11th August 2011).

Figure 4.27

Figure 4.27. “Stadium design” screen shot 11th August 2011.

The opening night of our school musical production gave me a chance to ask a professional sound engineer “about audio so I could be of further assistance to Ryan. He mentioned bass traps and reflective panels” (Researcher’s reflexive journal, 13th September 2011). The idea of a reflective panel was well received by Ryan and it was soon incorporated into his imagery as shown in Figure 4.28:

Today I had an idea of getting lots of little music notes and making a sort of pointy edged thing and bouncing them off while playing a song and showing what different angles can mean. And then show a straight line and show what a difference that would make to the sound and feel of being in a stadium (Student reflection, 22nd September 2011).

Figure 4.28

Figure 4.28. “Stadium design” screen shot 22nd September 2011.

My reflection on Ryan’s reflective panel shape gave me another idea for a possible metaphor. “This visualisation has the potential to be quite memorable and even iconic as it could resemble the early arcade game pong where a ball is bounced between paddles in a game of tennis” (Researcher reflection, 22nd September 2011).

I didn’t see Ryan again for five weeks due to an extended family holiday during the project (i.e., three Storyboard sessions and two weeks of school holidays). Towards the end of his absence, I felt that Ryan would need something tangible to work on to help him catch up with the other children. My initial suggestion involved the pong imagery. Since that moment in Session 12, Ryan made consistent and rapid progress each week as he sought to reconcile his understanding of the invisible, yet ubiquitous, nature of sound. Choosing and critiquing appropriate metaphors proved to be the turning point for Ryan’s conceptual consolidation. The learning that was facilitated through these discussions created the ZPD for Ryan as he began to think carefully about the implications of each metaphor.


Ryan’s conceptual journey

During the week following Ryan’s implementation of the pong metaphor, I wondered whether I was overdoing the preparatory research in between sessions. “Am I doing too much? I have spent most of tonight researching the children's topics to be able to give them strategic guidance tomorrow. They are the ones who are supposed to be answering these questions” (Researcher’s reflexive journal, 9th November 2011). In retrospect, I have no regrets about my additional research. In Ryan’s case, my homework led to an even bigger breakthrough:

Whilst preparing for this session, I came across some information about how sound waves involve the transmission of energy but the air itself doesn't move, as that would be wind. The pong idea might have been short lived as it suggests that the air does move. Another metaphor that might be useful involves those toy balls that hang together on strings from a frame (I can't remember what they're called) (Researcher reflection, 10th November 2011).

I soon found out that the suspended balls were called “Newton’s cradle”. There was a simple animated GIF online that I was able to show to Ryan. “Brendan showed me this animation of the Newton’s cradle which I think is a good way of showing how the air doesn’t move. But the...it’s the...energy in the air that’s moving. Is that right?” (Student reflection, 17th November 2011). After transcribing Ryan's reflection, I concluded that he understood the variables of sound, but that he wasn’t sure about how these variables affected one another.

Ryan and I had assumed that the Newton’s cradle metaphor would replace the pong imagery. Through more discussion, we came up with a better idea. “Today I decided that I’ll show the pong imagery first and then I’ll show the Newton’s cradle to show how the sound moves through the air” (Student reflection, 1st December 2011).

At the end of the last animation session, Ryan was still working on the Newton’s cradle imagery as shown in Figure 4.29.

Figure 4.29

Figure 4.29. Screen shot of prototype Newton’s cradle.

Ryan used the curved lines on either side of the balls as provisional scaffolds to enhance the ball swing. “I’ve made a curved line so then I can show, well it will be easier for me to keep, a perfect arc for the cradle” (Student reflection, 1st December 2011). Working with Ryan also surfaced some of the most interesting dynamics around the issue of co-authorship. Ryan delegated the completion of Newton’s cradle to me during the last session as we had run out of time. Ryan’s arc in Figure 4.29 was too small so I expanded it accordingly and also took the opportunity to change some of the colours as shown in Figure 4.30.

Figure 4.30

Figure 4.30. “Stadium design” construction imagery 10th December 2011.

Of course, the colours and improved swing didn’t affect the conceptual content of the animation. My rationale for fixing these details was due to the fact that the “Insert duplicate slide” animation technique still takes quite a lot of time as small movements must be made to the imagery prior to each enactment of this process. Getting the imagery right in the beginning is thus time well spent. I had also noted that it would have been ideal if Ryan could have been there for the final stages of the animation for his own spatial learning, which I detailed in my journal. “The circle and the horizontal line are used to ensure a smooth swing of the pendulum. They are then deleted. It's a shame that Ryan couldn't be here for this as it is additional learning for geometry and spatial intelligence” (Researcher’s reflexive journal, 10th December 2011).

This issue of completing some aspects of the work was raised the following week at the debriefing session. Some students were happy to receive assistance but Ryan expressed some apprehension about this:

Brendan: Do you feel that not being there right to the end, like some of your footage, some of the imagery you actually hadn’t made...I had to make it to fill in the gaps.

Ryan: I felt that maybe I would have liked to finish, because now it sort of feels like, it’s Brendan and my work so it’s not really my work anymore. And it becomes most, I had done most of the imagery, but then...then just before when we saw it, [it] makes me think, "I didn’t even do that" so it feels a bit weird.

Brendan: No I agree. That would, that’s what I wanted. It’s just a case of we didn’t get, umm...we had to get it done. We had to get it finished (Debriefing session 1C, December 15th 2011).

Although Ryan was open about his preference to do all of the work himself, he had delegated this task to me in the previous session when he said, "I’ve told Brendan what I need to be done, so the finishing touches, and he’s going to kindly help me with that" (Student reflection, 8th December 2011).

A postscript for this issue occurred over two years later when I saw Ryan at a sporting event on 26th February 2014. When asked about his preference for doing all of the imagery himself, he replied that he was surprised that he had ever expressed concerns about my collaboration in the final stage and that he was glad to have had assistance and guidance. Ryan also said that his most vivid memory of the whole project was Newton’s cradle.

At the very end of the project, I had some additional interaction with Ryan that was unscheduled. At the end of the first debriefing session, Ryan’s final director's commentary had not been recorded, as he had to leave when the bell went at 3:30 pm. When he returned prior to lunch the next day, he was a few minutes early so I invited him to walk with me across the schoolyard, as I was responsible for taking a grade of 6 year-old children back to their classroom. During this walk I mentioned that there was an error in his completed animation where the sound loses energy but I didn't want to tell him what it was without giving him one last chance to figure it out. Figure 4.31 depicts a ball (i.e., sound) falling when it has lost energy.

Figure 4.31

Figure 4.31. Screen shot of falling ball.

By the time we were back in the Music room and we'd watched it again, Ryan had not figured it out and was curious to know what it was. I explained that his falling ball was behaving like the wind rather than sound. Ryan discussed this insight directly in his director's commentary:

I made a bit of a mistake when it showed the, the ball losing energy and it just went straight to the ground. Because I really should have shown it shrinking away because air, if it has no sound, doesn’t just fall to the ground (“Stadium design” director’s commentary).

It appears that our discussion surrounding the falling ball provided the missing piece to Ryan’s conceptual puzzle. Ryan described his use of metaphors in his director’s commentary as a “breakthrough”. I think that Ryan was right to use the word breakthrough for both the pong and Newton's cradle metaphors because they gave him a course of action and a context for discussion. Ryan’s case is unique in that he presented multiple metaphors and then critiqued each metaphor explicitly in his voice-over script. Waldrip and Prain (2013) have stated that students need “to be able to explain limitations of some of their proposed 2D representations to indicate their understanding of concepts" (p. 27). Ryan’s ability to discuss the strengths and limitations of these two metaphors is a demonstration of model-based reasoning (Nersessian, 1984, 2002, 2008, 2012) and a representation construction approach to learning (Tytler, Hubber, Prain & Waldrip, 2013) where a critique of representational choices helps to guide and focus the learning. Table 4.20 is Ryan’s final conceptual consolidation rubric.


Table 4.20

Ryan’s final conceptual consolidation rubric

Uses correct terminology With assistance Simplified terminology Some correct terminology Actual terminology

Identifies relevant variables

Not apparent With assistance Basic understanding

Deep understanding

Identifies relationships between variables Not apparent With assistance Basic understanding Deep understanding

Self-assessment scale (1-10). Does the student think that they understand their topic?


A retrospective content issue pertaining to the acoustics of stadium design involved contrasting open roof with closed roof stadiums. This might have been appropriate for inclusion but we didn't think of this until after the animation was completed.

A summary of Ryan’s conceptual journey is presented in Table 4.21.


Table 4.21

Summary of Ryan’s conceptual journey

Table 4.21


Proceed to the next Portrait of Maria


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