Musical Jar Decoding

This unit has been created to address Task 3: Data – Representation within the CSER F-6 Digital Technologies: Foundations module.

Learning intention:

In particular, it describes option 2: “an activity that involves students encoding and decoding data.”  This resource has been created for Years 5-6 to address (ACTDIK015 – Scootle ), identified in the following elaborations:

  • “representing the state of an object in a game as active or inactive using the respective binary values of 1 or 0”
  • “recognising that digital systems represent all types of data using number codes that ultimately are patterns of 1s and 0s”

Cross-curriculum links:

Year 5/6 Science (ACSIS090 – Scootle ) (ACSIS107 – Scootle )

Year 5/6 Music (ACAMUM088 – Scootle )

What you will need:

6 glass jars of the same kind


Food colour to make six different colours (ideally: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple to directly map to the playing tables provided below)

Spoons or wooden dowels (must be of the same material and size)

A tuning fork or chromatic tuner app for the notes C-D-E-F-G-A

A watch or clock showing the second hand, or a metronome / metronome app


There will be six groups of students as follows:

Group A – 3 students

Group B – 4 students

Group C – 4 students

Group D – 4 students

Group E – 3 students

Group F – 4 students

TOTAL:  22 students

Plus additional students to keep the beat going (by clapping or counting)

The front of the room will be set up with six glass jars, each tuned to a different note.  To make things easier, the water in each jar will be coloured accordingly.  For example, these jars will be set up from left to right:

C note – Red

D note – Orange

E note – Yellow

F note – Green

G note – Blue

A note – Purple

Students in each group will be assigned to their corresponding queue, for example:  The red queue (for the ‘C’ or ‘do’ note) will have Student 1 from Group A, followed by Student 1 from Group B, two blank spaces, then Student 1 from Group E, and finally Student 1 from Group F.  Students from the same group will step up to the front of the queue at the same time and stay there for 7 counts.  At the eighth count, the current group leaves (to go to the back of the queue, if playing again) and the next group steps up.

To keep a steady beat, a few remaining students can either clap to the rhythm (at the rate of 1 clap every second).  An alternative is to count from 1 through 48 (refer to the time on the leftmost column); or just 1 through 8 repeatedly.  Each student will get the dataset for their 8-second spiel.  For example, Student 2 from Group B will get the data set “0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0” (this is the second column from the second table) to correspond with time/count 9 through 16.  A ‘0’ means the student will not play; a ‘1’ means they will hit their jar with a spoon or wooden dowel.


Following the activity, students will be encouraged to identify the ways they have used data decoding, e.g, a student gets a ‘1’ when it is their turn to “play” a specific musical jar.  They will be encouraged to use appropriate vocabulary such as rhythm and make connections to time increments (in this case, the unit “second” is used to determine when the data is decoded).  Some extension activities might be for students to decode more songs, encode their own music, or recognise the relationship decoding time and signal frequency.

Some helpful links:

Piano by numbers

Musical jars



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