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written by the The PhET Project and Jackie Esler
This simulation-based activity for middle school was developed to help students build a foundation to understand basic wave properties. It was created by a middle school teacher to be used specifically with the PhET simulation "Wave on a String".  It guides learners in data collection as they explore amplitude, wavelength, and frequency. Included are lesson plans, pre-lab concept questions, an inquiry-based partner activity (Day 1), and step-by-step student guide for the Day 2 computer simulation activity. This author was awarded the PhET Gold Star for excellence.

The wave simulation, which must be open and displayed to complete this activity, is available from PhET at: Wave on a String.

This lesson is part of PhET (Physics Education Technology Project), a large collection of free interactive simulations for science education.

Please note that this resource requires Flash.
Editor's Note: Physics education research in the past decade indicates that students have commonly-held misconceptions about how waves originate, move, and behave. This resource works to dispel the myths by providing scaffolds for using the wave simulator. The activities are well-sequenced to promote the critical thinking that will help learners make connections among wave frequency, amplitude, speed, and structure of the medium.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Education Practices
- Active Learning
= Modeling
Oscillations & Waves
- Oscillations
= Simple Harmonic Motion
= Springs and Oscillators
- Wave Motion
= Longitudinal Pulses and Waves
= Transverse Pulses and Waves
- Middle School
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Best practice
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Interactive Simulation
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Student Guide
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- New teachers
  • Currently 0.0/5

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Safety Warnings
Minimal Danger   No Safety Equipment Necessary  

Intended Users:
General Public
Access Rights:
Free access
© 2011 The PhET Project
PHET, Phet, amplitude, clicker questions, frequency, labs, lesson plans, wave addition, wave period, wave reflection, wave simulator, wave superposition, wavelength
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created April 19, 2012 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 18, 2016 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
July 25, 2011

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

4. The Physical Setting

4F. Motion
  • 6-8: 4F/M4. Vibrations in materials set up wavelike disturbances that spread away from the source. Sound and earthquake waves are examples. These and other waves move at different speeds in different materials.
  • 6-8: 4F/M7. Wave behavior can be described in terms of how fast the disturbance spreads, and in terms of the distance between successive peaks of the disturbance (the wavelength).
  • 9-12: 4F/H6ab. Waves can superpose on one another, bend around corners, reflect off surfaces, be absorbed by materials they enter, and change direction when entering a new material. All these effects vary with wavelength.

9. The Mathematical World

9B. Symbolic Relationships
  • 6-8: 9B/M2. Rates of change can be computed from differences in magnitudes and vice versa.
9C. Shapes
  • 6-8: 9C/M4. The graphic display of numbers may help to show patterns such as trends, varying rates of change, gaps, or clusters that are useful when making predictions about the phenomena being graphed.

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 6-8: 11B/M2. Mathematical models can be displayed on a computer and then modified to see what happens.
  • 6-8: 11B/M4. Simulations are often useful in modeling events and processes.

12. Habits of Mind

12C. Manipulation and Observation
  • 6-8: 12C/M3. Make accurate measurements of length, volume, weight, elapsed time, rates, and temperature by using appropriate devices.
12D. Communication Skills
  • 6-8: 12D/M1. Organize information in simple tables and graphs and identify relationships they reveal.
  • 6-8: 12D/M4. Understand oral, written, or visual presentations that incorporate circle charts, bar and line graphs, two-way data tables, diagrams, and symbols.
  • 6-8: 12D/M8. Explain a scientific idea to someone else, checking understanding and responding to questions.

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics Alignments

Ratios and Proportional Relationships (6-7)

Analyze proportional relationships and use them to solve real-world and mathematical problems. (7)
  • 7.RP.2.a Decide whether two quantities are in a proportional relationship, e.g., by testing for equivalent ratios in a table or graphing on a coordinate plane and observing whether the graph is a straight line through the origin.

Expressions and Equations (6-8)

Represent and analyze quantitative relationships between dependent and independent variables. (6)
  • 6.EE.9 Use variables to represent two quantities in a real-world problem that change in relationship to one another; write an equation to express one quantity, thought of as the dependent variable, in terms of the other quantity, thought of as the independent variable. Analyze the relationship between the dependent and independent variables using graphs and tables, and relate these to the equation.

Functions (8)

Define, evaluate, and compare functions. (8)
  • 8.F.2 Compare properties of two functions each represented in a different way (algebraically, graphically, numerically in tables, or by verbal descriptions).
Use functions to model relationships between quantities. (8)
  • 8.F.5 Describe qualitatively the functional relationship between two quantities by analyzing a graph (e.g., where the function is increasing or decreasing, linear or nonlinear). Sketch a graph that exhibits the qualitative features of a function that has been described verbally.

This resource is part of a Physics Front Topical Unit.

Topic: Wave Energy
Unit Title: Wave Properties: Frequency, Amplitude, Period, Phase

This PhET Gold Star winning lesson provides a fun way for middle school students to build a foundation to understand basic wave properties. It guides learners in data collection as they explore amplitude, wavelength, and frequency. Includes lesson plan, pre-lab concept questions, an inquiry-based partner activity (Day 1) and step-by-step student guide for the Day 2 computer modeling activity.

Link to Unit:
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Record Link
AIP Format
The PhET Project and J. Esler, (2011), WWW Document, (https://phet.colorado.edu/en/contributions/view/3447).
The PhET Project and J. Esler, PhET Teacher Activities: Properties of a Wave, (2011), <https://phet.colorado.edu/en/contributions/view/3447>.
APA Format
The PhET Project, & Esler, J. (2011, July 25). PhET Teacher Activities: Properties of a Wave. Retrieved June 27, 2017, from https://phet.colorado.edu/en/contributions/view/3447
Chicago Format
The PhET Project, and Jackie Esler. PhET Teacher Activities: Properties of a Wave. July 25, 2011. https://phet.colorado.edu/en/contributions/view/3447 (accessed 27 June 2017).
MLA Format
The PhET Project, and Jackie Esler. PhET Teacher Activities: Properties of a Wave. 2011. 25 July 2011. 27 June 2017 <https://phet.colorado.edu/en/contributions/view/3447>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Author = "The PhET Project and Jackie Esler", Title = {PhET Teacher Activities: Properties of a Wave}, Volume = {2017}, Number = {27 June 2017}, Month = {July 25, 2011}, Year = {2011} }
Refer Export Format

%Q The PhET Project
%A Jackie Esler
%T PhET Teacher Activities: Properties of a Wave
%D July 25, 2011
%U https://phet.colorado.edu/en/contributions/view/3447
%O text/html

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source
%A The PhET Project,
%A Esler, Jackie
%D July 25, 2011
%T PhET Teacher Activities: Properties of a Wave
%V 2017
%N 27 June 2017
%8 July 25, 2011
%9 text/html
%U https://phet.colorado.edu/en/contributions/view/3447

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PhET Teacher Activities: Properties of a Wave:

Requires PhET Simulation: Wave on a String

A link to the PhET simulation Wave on a String, which must be running in order to complete this activity.

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