About DeciBels, Phons, and Sones

Highly Recommended
Like all our Science Reasoning Center activities, the completion of the DeciBels, Phons, and Sones activity requires that a student use provided information about a phenomenon, experiment, or data presentation to answer questions. This information is accessible by tapping on the small thumbnails found on the bottom right of every question. However, it may be considerably easier to have a printed copy of this information or to display the information in a separate browser window. You can access this information from this page

The Standards
The DeciBels, Phons, and Sones describes the relationship between sound intensity and the deciBel level, between the perceived loudness of a sound and its frequency and deciBel level, and the sone scale of loudness. Information is presented in the form of a table, a graph with several equal loudness curves and a figure representing the sone scale. Questions target a student's ability to identify and use the relationship between intensity and the deciBel rating, to read values from and to interpret a complex graph, to use data from two or more data presentations in order to compare two sounds, and to combine information from two or more data presentations in order to draw valid conclusions.

Success with DeciBels, Phons, and Sones requires some degree of understanding or proficiency with respect to ...
  • Developing and Using Models (Science and Engineering Practice 2.4)
    Develop and/or use multiple types of models to provide mechanistic accounts and/or predict phenomena, and move flexibly between model types based on merits and limitations.
  • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations (Science and Engineering Practice 3.5)
    Make directional hypotheses that specify what happens to a dependent variable when an independent variable is manipulated.
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data (Science and Engineering Practice 4.1)
    Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution.
  • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (Science and Engineering Practice 5.3)
    Use mathematical, computational, and/or algorithmic representations of phenomena or design solutions to describe and/or support claims and/or explanations.
  • Patterns (Crosscutting Concept 1.2)
    Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns.
  • Scale, Proportion, and Quantity (Crosscutting Concept 3.2)
    Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth).

While DeciBels, Phons, and Sones activity addresses the four NextGen Science and Engineering Practices and the two Crosscutting Concepts above, the task draws its greatest inspiration from ACT's College Readiness Standards for Science Reasoning. The task consists of 53 questions organized into 17 Question Groups and spread across the three activities. A single strand (Interpretation of Data - IOD) of the College Readiness Standards are addressed in this activity. The code given for the standard includes three letters (IOD) to indicate the strand and three numbers to indicate the specific standard within that strand. Higher numbers are indicative of more complex science reasoning skills. The relationship between the questions and the standards is as follows:


Complementary and Similar Resources
The following resources at The Physics Classroom website complement the DeciBels, Phons, and Sones Science Reasoning Activity. Teachers may find them useful for supporting students and/or as components of lesson plans and unit plans.

Physics Classroom Tutorial, Sound Waves and Music: Intensity and the DeciBel Scale

Concept Builders, Waves and Sound: DeciBel Scale

Minds On Physics, Sound Waves and Music, Mission SM3 - Sound Intensity and DeciBel Levels

The Calculator Pad, Sound Waves: Problem Sets SW6 - SW8