Ideas for Noisemakers to Get the Attention of a Loud Classroom
October 29, 2013 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Hey folks! I am a high school biology teacher in Chicago Public Schools. I am trying to find a small, creative noisemaker I can use as a signal to get the class to quiet down so I can give instructions. Some teachers raise their hands - however, this doesn't really work when they are busy peering through microscopes.

I'd like something that is loud enough to hear, but not annoying. If the volume is adjustable, that's ideal, so it could be really loud for labs but quiet for pulling them out of silent reading.

If you know of noisemakers that have some but not all criteria, please suggest them anyway, since I don't know if I'll be able to find the perfect signal.

Criteria of a Good Attention Signal
- loud but not annoying (volume adjustable preferred)
- creative/clever but not distracting (not a Whoopie cushion, for example)
- small and portable (not on the computer) - this way I can use it no matter where I am in the room
- either totally non-electronic or battery operated, again for portability

Ideally I'd like to find something that has SOMETHING to do with biology or science. For example, the Spanish teacher uses maracas.

I thought it would be cool if I could play some kind of animal sounds, but I don't know of any small, portable noisemakers that would do that... besides those "mooing" cubes that babies can play with. I'm not sure if those are loud enough to work.

Please let me know if you have any ideas!
posted by thelastpolarbear to Education (43 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, my very first thought was a vibraslap.

If you wanted to go more animal route, I guess something like a duck call? Or a shofar?
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:06 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Forgive the pun, but in my high school class I use a cowbell. More cowbell!
posted by kinetic at 2:08 PM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

How about a slide whistle?
posted by Snazzy67 at 2:08 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's not Biology related, though I guess it could be if you get one with animals painted on it or whatever, but an old teacher of mine used to use a small ceramic bell for this purpose. Very clear tone that cuts through the noise, but not jarring or irritating.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:08 PM on October 29, 2013

High school might be a little old for this, but a good one for younger kids (especially a big group of them making a lot of noise) is to say:
If you can hear me please clap once.
If you can hear me please clap twice.
If you can hear me please be quiet.
Only a few kids will actually hear you speaking, but the clapping classmates are what gets their attention.
posted by phunniemee at 2:11 PM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

You might have to do some field testing, as it were, re: noise level and annoyance, but what about a hunting call of some sort, like an elk bugle or a duck call?

Not at all tool-based, but there's also the EARS- OPEN call and response, which is just vocal and could be useful in a pinch.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:11 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about clickers, like the ones used for dog training? Dog training is scientific.
posted by thinkpiece at 2:14 PM on October 29, 2013


(I work in an academic unit in what has traditionally been considered an ag school. Instead of a bell, we have a moo box at the front desk of our advising office. When the advisor is away from her desk, there is a sign by the moo box that says "Please Moo for Service." About half of our visitors know to turn the box over in order to make it moo. The other half pause and then emit a timid, verbal "um, moo?")
posted by mudpuppie at 2:16 PM on October 29, 2013 [39 favorites]

How about the TARDIS materializing/dematerializing?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 2:20 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Riffing off the maracas theme, what about a DIY thing like a can or box or jar containing small bones or seeds or rocks (damnit, Marie, they're MINERALS!)?
posted by CathyG at 2:20 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Compact Signal Horn

It is powered by compressed gas. That is scientific.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:20 PM on October 29, 2013

How loud does your phone get? Personally, I like the Squeaky Toy app.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:24 PM on October 29, 2013

Or maybe an interesting biology-related device would be to get one of those mosquito boxes that plays a frequency at ~18,000 Hz that only teenagers can hear.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:28 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Acme Thunderer will reliably meet all your scholastic signaling needs, for decades to come. Accept no substitutes.
posted by paulsc at 2:29 PM on October 29, 2013

A small bell was my first thought. But if you want something a little more science related, how about one of those frog noisemakers? It's a gentle sound but no one will miss it.
posted by kdern at 2:30 PM on October 29, 2013

A duck call.
posted by wwax at 2:30 PM on October 29, 2013

I flicker the lights in my classroom to get my students' attention. This is more effective IME.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:31 PM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

No adjustable volume but a dog training clicker will probably get their attention.
posted by komara at 2:33 PM on October 29, 2013

I've used these chimes for two years in my classroom. They're sturdy, portable, very volume adjustable (they get really loud if you give them a whack), and you can make patterns with them if you want.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:34 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is a small, handheld tool that naturalists use to teach birdcalls (and other animal sounds) in the field that I do not know the name of (but it is something between a keychain and a for-hunting game call). It's a little handheld electronic device with a dozen buttons.

They're being supplanted by apps for your smartphone -- which is another option, you can have 8 zillion animal calls at many volumes in your pocket with a smartphone app -- but you can still find them at nature center stores and things, since they're like $20 and pretty rugged and you don't have to risk your phone if you're taking 8-year-olds on a mud-hike. Maybe someone knows what they're called, my googling was fruitless.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:40 PM on October 29, 2013

A similar technique some teachers use is to flicker the lights on and off.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:44 PM on October 29, 2013

I use a simple metal desk bell. I don't even have to explain it, I just ring it once and wait. Even my room full of boisterous seniors will quiet down within about 10 seconds.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 3:14 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I were in your position I would wire all the seats to administer a mild electric shock at the touch of a button just flick the lights a couple times, as others have suggested. Alternatively you could get a mechanical egg timer (the kind that goes tik-tik-tik-tik-tik-tik-tik-tik-BRRRRIIIIINNNNNG!!!!) and set it for however long you want that portion of the exercise to last. The humble egg timer has a long and storied role in the biological sciences, is universally recognized, and the soft tik-tik-tik that it makes is a wonderful aid to concentration and a gentle reminder to not screw around because time's a-wastin'.
posted by Scientist at 3:22 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

At my Jewish day camp a counselor would shout" Sheket B'vakashah ( Quiet please)! Hey!".
posted by brujita at 3:39 PM on October 29, 2013

A filmmaker's clapperboard.
posted by alms at 4:05 PM on October 29, 2013

My old principal would get an auditorium full of kids to quiet down by clapping four-beat rhythms at them. The students would clap back and stop their talking so they could hear the next pattern. Usually three rhythms would be enough.

The rhythms went like this:

clap | clap | clap-clap | clap

clap-clap | clap-clap | clap-clap | clap

clap | (rest)-clap | clap | clap
posted by alphanerd at 4:54 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Submarine sonar ping!
posted by barnone at 5:33 PM on October 29, 2013

Do you have a smartphone? You could get a soundboard app for it -- portable, battery-powered, adjustable volume, and a wide variety available. The top choice on this list has an animal soundboard, for instance.
posted by katemonster at 5:46 PM on October 29, 2013

My cell phone ring is orca calls (it was a ringtone from the one of the nature non-profits but I'm sure you can find other sources.)

I adore it because it cuts through whatever other music I might have on, where something that had a melody didn't. (Peregrine falcon calls cut through clearly, too.)

Set up something like that where you can play it easily when you need it, either from a classroom computer or a phone?
posted by modernhypatia at 5:48 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Of the ones above, I think I like the slide whistle best for high schoolers.

I thought I'd mention though that my son's elementary school uses little teeny harmonicas to get attention, and those are very pleasant.
posted by spbmp at 5:48 PM on October 29, 2013

Duck call!

Force of breath changes volume!
Unusual sound for a classroom!
Small enough to have in your pocket!
Biology related!

Added benefits:
Short grab-to-use time!
Single handed operation! (in case one is busy/messy)
Can branch out to other animal calls!
posted by itesser at 5:59 PM on October 29, 2013

posted by Room 641-A at 6:08 PM on October 29, 2013

Jew's Harp
posted by Room 641-A at 6:13 PM on October 29, 2013

posted by odinsdream at 6:25 PM on October 29, 2013

Thete are some bike bells that have a really nice, penetrating tone that's not at all annoying.
posted by leahwrenn at 7:41 PM on October 29, 2013

One of my past teachers used a codeword, salami(e) - Stop And Look At Me. The randomness and silliness of the word was often enough to get our attention, but it does require being able to raise your voice above the din of the classroom.
posted by WasabiFlux at 9:32 PM on October 29, 2013

As a professional facilitator I often get the attention of a crowded noisy room with a pari of tingsha cymbals.

You can get them at Eastern import stores, meditation stores or hippy shops, but it pays to get a good quality pair, heavy and made of brass without embossed lettering on them. the ring carries a long way and is piercing without being annoying.

However you have to be careful with them. they work well if you ring them once or twice. Clanging them alot is not recommended, and when you pick them up, don't let them clatter. They become annoying very quickly.

Alternatively a singing bowl is a good way to get attention and you can also fill it with Hallowe'en candy.
posted by salishsea at 9:51 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Phunniemee's clapping technique works on college kids, too. I extend it to however many claps it takes to get the whole room clapping. And then I make some comment about "Fourteen claps, we can do better." Next time, "Hey, you did it in eight claps!" By the end of the year we're down to just a few. Works like a charm.
posted by Liesl at 7:44 AM on October 30, 2013

Triangle. You get a portable, battery-free solution whose volume you can easily vary, and because the initial sharper sound is followed by a very gradual decay, a student who misses the initial sound but notices their classmates stopping their work can tune into the decaying sound and think "okay, I know what's going on here." This is used to great effect by many instructors in the corporate world, as it's a gentle sound but also a clearly audible and demanding sound.
posted by davejay at 1:03 PM on October 30, 2013

I remember a few teachers turning the lights on and off a few times to indicate that they wanted our attention. Would that not work?
posted by vignettist at 4:47 PM on October 30, 2013

I have used a squeaky rubber ducky to good effect.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:19 PM on October 30, 2013

Lots of good suggestions here, but one I don't think I've seen: I use a homemade equivalent of a rainmaker. It has a calming quality to it and with my (much younger) pupils I give points for being the first to hear and respond to it.
posted by schmoo at 1:07 AM on October 31, 2013

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