CBC Digital Archives

Lesson Plan: For Teachers: The Science Behind Phone Systems

3 to 4 lessons
To demonstrate understanding of the science behind the technology of telephones and telephone systems; to build a model, working model, or computer simulation of a given type of technology.
Using a variety of Web-based resources, students research and create models, simulations, or other visual presentations of various aspects of telephone technology.

Lesson Plan


The telephone was introduced in 1876. It was a simple device that could transmit and receive voice communications over a short distance. The famous words first transmitted over the line ("Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.") ushered in the modern age. In a scant 128 years we have gone from a prototype device capable of carrying a voice signal a few short metres to portable units that can transmit voices as well as images all over the world by way of satellite systems. Students will investigate the science behind the innovations along the way.

The Task

Place students into groups of four and have them select from, or assign to them, one of the following topics:



Early phones and phone systems

Pulse versus tone technology

Microwave technology (non-satellite)

Fibre optic systems

Satellite technology

Students will conduct in-depth research on their topic. Using the information they have gathered, they will produce a scientific visual presentation of how the given technology works. They can build models, design computer simulations, or build small working systems to illustrate the topic.

The Process

Students begin their research on the topic Canada Says Hello: The First Century of the Telephone on the CBC Digital Archives website, where they can choose relevant clips by consulting the clip summaries. They can then follow the links to get more details on how their systems operate, and use any other resources they feel are relevant.

Students will work in a group and organize their research, design, materials-gathering, building, and presentation such that all group members contribute to the project equally.

Using materials in the physics or electronics class, students make models and/or mini-labs illustrating the aspect they are studying.

Students will also prepare a handout containing a short exercise for the rest of the class to complete based on observations of the demonstration.


Students demonstrate their models and explain the workings to the rest of the class. Each group provides its handout and exercise to the rest of the class, who will complete the work and submit it.


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