Create a Morse Code Device

Scenario: You and your friends want to send messages to each other across a long distance (for example, a soccer field or lake) during the day. It’s too bright outside to use flashlights. How could you communicate to each other using sound with common objects?

Educational Outcomes

  • Students articulate ideas for communicating across long distances.
  • Students plan and conduct investigations to provide evidence that vibrating materials can make sound.

STEAM Integration

For the design challenge at the end of this unit, students will be asked to create devices that allow them to communicate using sounds rather than speech. To prepare for the challenge, students will be learning how different sounds can be created by various vibrating materials. They will learn that sound pitch and volume can change depending on the size of vibrating object. To learn these concepts, students will conduct tests on various objects in their school and home environment and classify these objects by pitch and loudness.


NGSS 1-PS4-1: Plan and conduct investigations to provide evidence that vibrating materials can make sound and that sound can make materials vibrate.

NGSS 1-PS4-4: Use tools and materials to design and build a device that uses light or sound to solve the problem of communicating over a distance.

Unit Materials

This unit can be completed using the RAFT Makerspace-in-a-Box kit. The kit contains many items with various attributes useful for different purposes by students. Examples include rigid items for structure such as craft sticks, plastic rods, and cardboard tubes; flexible/cuttable items such as foam, chenille stems, straws, and cardstock for making customized structures; and items serving as connectors such as paper clips, binder clips, and stickers/tape. Note: Some lessons call for additional items not included in the kit. We encourage facilitators to be creative and provide other materials to explore in the lessons. Questions? Email us: 

Maker Journal Pages

Students record their learning in Maker Journal pages, sheets containing tasks and prompts specific to each lesson in the unit, including the culminating design challenge. These sheets encourage students to reflect on their learning throughout the unit and can be used as part of a larger student portfolio with which to demonstrate growth in concept knowledge and design skills. These sheets can be copied for students or recreated by students in a bound notebook.

Tips for an Active Classroom

Communication is critical in the design process. Students need to be allowed to talk, stand, and move around to acquire materials. Help students become successful and care for the success of others by asking them to predict problems that might arise in the active environment and ask them to suggest strategies for their own behavior that will ensure a positive working environment for all students and teachers.

Design Thinking Overview

Our integrated STEAM units incorporate a non-linear design thinking model, with each phase being repeatable to allow students to rework and iterate while developing a deeper understanding of the core concepts. The phases of the design thinking model are:

Empathize: Work to fully understand the experience of the user

Define: Process and synthesize findings from empathy work to form a user point of view

Ideate: Explore a wide range and variety of possible ideas for solutions

Prototype: Transform ideas into a physical form with which to learn and interact

Test: Refine prototypes, learn more about the user, and refine original point of view

Lesson 1: Brief History of Communication (30 minutes)

Students learn about different means of verbal and non-verbal communication through discussion, videos, and demonstration. Students identify and list the communication methods and categorize them as old or modern after first learning some history on communication. The teacher demonstrates a non-verbal form of communication based on student input in the form of yes/no questions.

Learning Targets

  • Students will be able to identify current and past methods of human communication.
  • Students will be able to generate yes/no questions that can be answered non-verbally.

Essential Questions

  • What are some ways people have communicated with each other throughout history?
  • How might we communicate non-verbally in class?



  1. Start a 5-10 minute discussion with students on their familiarity with forms of communication. See the sample teacher-student dialog below for examples of teacher questions and students responses. Record and display student responses physically on chart paper or digitally.
  2. Present or have students access this video: Means of Communication for Kids.
  3. Students list or draw some of the communication methods discussed in the video.
  4. Students circle the items in their lists that they believe to be the oldest and then underline the items they think are the newest forms of communication.
  5. Present or have students access this video: Pocket History of Communication.
  6. Call on some students to share their examples of past and present forms of communication. Have students revisit their lists and make corrections where necessary.
  7. Demonstration: Hold up an object, e.g. tennis ball, and tell students it will be used as a symbol for a “yes” response. Hold up a pen or pencil and identify it as a symbol for a “no” response. Students are to think about and write down 1-3 questions about the teacher, class, or other topic determined by the teacher that can be answered with yes or no (binary responses).
  8. Summarize the learning from this lesson (types and history of communication, yes/no questions, demonstrating non-verbal communication). Inform students that the next lesson will focus on the properties of sound, vibrations, and uses in communication.

Sample teacher and student dialog

T: “What are some ways we can communicate with each other? I’m communicating to you now by talking to you. I also write notes to you on your homework. What are some other ways we communicate?”

S: “Talking, sign language, flashing a light, hitting an object, phone calls!”

T: “What is your favorite way of communicating? What is your least favorite method? Why?”

S: “Social media, text messages, phone calls.”

T: “How might we communicate with someone who is standing really far away, like on the other side of a playground or soccer field, without electronics?”

S: “Yell, wave at them, move around.”

T: “This has been a problem for thousands of years, how to send messages to people really far away. Today we’ll learn about different means of communication (verbal, non-verbal) and also how these means have changed throughout history. We’ll model how to communicate non-verbally by asking yes/no-type questions and using objects as symbols for yes/no.”

Lesson 2: The Properties of Sound (30 minutes)

Students learn about the relationship between vibrations and sound discussion, videos, and an exploration. Students choose 3-5 different materials and then test the materials for their ability to make sound, with sound serving as evidence that vibration is taking place.

Learning Target

  • Students will be able to identify materials that vibrate and make sound when struck, stretched, or tested by other means.

Essential Questions

  • What is the definition of sound? What does it mean to vibrate?
  • What is the relationship between vibration and sound?
  • How do different materials make different sounds?



  1. Set the materials to be explored later in the lesson on a table or cart for students to access at the appropriate time. Queue the lesson videos if needed.
  2. Hold a 5-10 minute discussion with students to gauge their knowledge of sound and vibrations. Students write or draw their ideas on paper for what sound is and what causes it.
  3. Present or have students access this video: Sound is Vibration.
  4. Have students refine their ideas or drawing based on learning from the video. Call on 1-2 students to share their refined or new ideas.
  5. Present or have students access this video: Science World Resources: Sound.
  6. Have students identify materials the presenter used to make sound and the results (what he used and what happened). Call on students to share.
  7. Investigation: Students choose 3-5 different materials with assistance if needed. Students can make sounds with rigid materials by striking them with another object. For stretchy or flexible materials such as fabrics, rubber bands, or paper, it might be better to first mount these materials onto another rigid object such as a container and then pluck, strike, or bang them on flat surfaces. Encourage students to leverage their learning from the videos as well, allowing them to try the methods presented!
  8. Students record their observations in the lesson Maker Journal.
  9. Summarize the learning from this lesson (examples of sound and its causes, relationship between sound and vibration, different materials can cause different sounds/vibrations).
  10. Optional: In lieu of a variety of materials, students can explore the relationship between sound and vibration using the RAFT Glove-A-Phone kit.

Sample teacher and student dialog

T: “Can anyone tell me what sound is (provide examples)?”

S: “Music, talking, car horns, vibrations through the air.”

T: “Those are all correct! What do you think causes sound?”

S: “Hitting something, plugging in and turning on a radio, sound waves!”

T: ”Again, these are great answers. Today we’ll learn that sounds are vibrations that move through materials. We’ll watch a few cool videos to give us a little background and then we’ll investigate the relationship between sound and vibrations by trying to make sounds with different materials I have for you. Are you ready? Let’s go!”


Review student Maker Journal responses. Students should record information demonstrating their understanding that sound is caused by vibration and that different vibrating materials can cause different sounds.

Lesson 3: Understanding Morse Code (40 min)

Students learn the history and meaning behind Morse Code, create their own coded messages, and then pass them to other students to decode.

Learning Targets

  • Students will be able to describe the origin and history of Morse Code.
  • Students will be able to create, send and decode messages written in Morse Code.

Essential Questions

  • What is Morse Code?
  • How can we understand messages sent using Morse Code?



  1. Hold a brief discussion with students on their prior knowledge on Morse Code.
  2. Present or have students access this video: The Invention of Morse Code.
  3. Have students refine their ideas based on learning from the video. Call on 1-2 students to share their new ideas on Morse Code.
  4. Present or have students access this web resource, focusing on the history and usage of Morse Code: SOS Meaning and Quiz
  5. Refer students to the Morse Code chart in the lesson Maker Journal. Draw student attention towards the different pattern of dots and dashes for each letter in the chart. Focus on the letter A as an example. Students should notice that its pattern is a dot followed by a dash.
  6. Students can model this dot-dash pattern together by making a short sound by buzzing their lips or clapping hands. It should be one short sound (dot), followed by a short pause, and then a 3-second sound (dash).
  7. Ask students to write down the word “CAT.” Show students how to write out the letter C using the Morse Code chart (dash-dot-dash-dot). Next have students sound it out just as in step 5 above.
  8. Students finish writing and sounding out the Morse Code for the letters A and T, completing the word “CAT.”
  9. Students work independently or in teams to create short, simple messages to convert into Morse Code, recording them along with the decoded meanings.
  10. Students trade messages and attempt to decode each other’s messages.

Sample teacher and student dialog

T: “Who here has heard of Morse Code? Can you tell me what it is?

S: “Patterns, dots and dashes, a series of beeps.”

T: “That’s right! Morse Code certainly uses patterns of dots and dashes. How was Morse Code used across great distances, say across the Pacific Ocean?”

S: “Telegraph, over the radio, flashing lights.”

T: “Again, you are all correct. Today we’ll learn a little history about Morse Code, learn to create our own messages in Morse, and then use a Morse Code chart to decode each other’s messages.”


Students take the short quiz at the end of the article SOS Meaning and Quiz. Check student journal entries and have them verbally or kinesthetically demonstrate (via tapping an object) their Morse Code message patterns.

Design Challenge: Create a Morse Code Device (45 min)

Students apply their learning from previous lessons on sound and Morse Code to design and build a communication device that can send a message across a distance to another person. Students test their designs and describe design features that meet the criteria and constraints for the challenge.

Learning Targets

  • Students will be able to design and build a device that uses sound to solve the problem of communicating over a distance
  • Students will be able to describe specific features of their design that meet the defined criteria and constraints

Design Prompt

How can we design and build a device that communicates a message over a distance using sound?


  • RAFT Makerspace-in-a-box
  • Tape (masking or scotch)
  • Scissors, staplers, hole punches rulers
  • Computers or mobile devices
  • Internet access


  1. Present and explain the design prompt(s) for the challenge (above)
  2. Review and define the criteria and constraints listed below and these terms: iterationprototype. Alternatively, you can define them together as a class, providing students with voice and choice.
  3. Assign student teams or assign students to specific groups.
  4. Students follow steps in the design process and record their progress in the challenge Maker Journal.
  5. Students share and compare their design solutions, reflect on the data collection/calculations, and provide peer feedback for improvement on future iterations.

The criteria and constraints for this challenge are listed below. Criteria are the requirements for the design or its expected functions or abilities. Constraints are limitations on the design such as time, space, available materials, money, etc. The criteria and constraints are also listed in the Maker Journal for this challenge.

Criteria & Constraints

  • Device is able to send a message across the classroom or farther
  • Device uses sound to communicate a message
  • Device is portable
  • Device built using the materials provided
  • Device completed and tested in the given time
  • Device is easily put together and taken apart
  • Device not be secured to the ground or testing area in any way (free standing)

Ideate Phase

During the ideation phase students should have ample time to discuss and research their ideas and potential impact. All ideas are welcome during the ideation phase, and students should be encouraged to think big. Students should capture their ideas using the Maker Journal or a digital tool (Google doc, other). Keep in mind students may return to this phase as many times as needed.

Prototype Phase

Students select one of the designs from the ideation stage to create using various materials. Initially they will have a rough prototype of the design that should eventually get better as they test it and make refinements. Students may also want to experiment with solutions that focus on changes in behavior. In this case encourage them to create a detailed plan as well as a device that will help to remind them or encourage this change in behavior. Students use the Maker Journal to draw and label their designs. Students may need to return to this phase as they iterate.

Test Phase

Students self evaluate as they test their designs in the Maker Journal. This activity should be focused on brevity and conducted at a brisk pace. Students should be going through ideas, building prototypes and evaluating their designs for at least three or four design cycles. Build time should be quick and designs should be kept simple. Students may return to this phase as they iterate.


Students discuss and compare their solutions and give each other feedback on the ability of their design to send sound-based messages across a distance. Students also give suggestions for improvements to the design for future iterations. During the presentations, help students focus their thinking on the data collected and interpreting the results to better define the design prompts.