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Physical Sciences K-8: Wave Energy Units

Examples of all types of waves are found in nature. Our understanding of the physical world is not complete until we understand the properties and behaviors of waves. Mechanical waves require a material "medium" through which to travel, electromagnetic waves do not.

  Teaching About Waves and Wave Energy (7)

Lesson Plans:

Cross-disciplinary resource blends physics, earth science, and global history to get students excited about the science of tsunamis. It is a highly engaging way to introduce your students to the basic wave properties of frequency, amplitude, and periodicity. They use real-time data to see how various global agencies monitor for tsunami activity, then develop a "preparedness plan" using evidence from the data they collected. Most appropriate for grades 8-12, but could be adapted for Grades 6-7.

Item Type: Data-Based Project
Level: Grades 6-12
Duration: 5-7

References and Collections:

A must-read article from Science magazine, this item summarizes the research efforts of the PhET project on the use of interactive simulations in the physics classroom.  Results indicate that concept mastery is measurably improved when students explore simulated physical processes in addition to traditional labs.  Use of simulations was also correlated to higher student motivation and active involvement in the learning process.

Item Type: Scholarly Article

Interested in doing a unit on Waves, but need a content refresher? This award-winning tutorial collection covers basic wave phenomena, sound waves, harmonic motion, resonance, superposition, acoustics, double-slit interference, and more. It's written for non-physicists, and each topic is supported with author-created animations that demonstrate the concepts.

Item Type: Animation-Based Tutorial

Content Support For Teachers:

A straightforward tutorial suitable for crossover teachers or K-8 physical science teachers who would like a refresher on the topic of waves.  This is part of the respected Physics Classroom tutorial collection, and covers wave categories, properties and behavior of waves, and how waves transport energy.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial

New and crossover teachers often appreciate a way to "see" physics beyond the pages of a textbook.  This interactive tutorial covers every topic typically studied in an introduction to Waves.  There are 20 sequenced tutorials, each with a discussion of one focused idea, a Java simulation that depicts that idea, and self-guided questions at the end.

Item Type: Simulation-Based Tutorial

Don't be scared off by the title of this item.  It's a fascinating resource that features a "thematic search engine" for locating information and examples of sound, sound waves, acoustics, hearing, and other related topics.  Each topic is accompanied by audio clips from the library of the World Soundscape Project.  For example, the topic "Hearing Loss" contains an audio simulation of normal and impaired hearing as a result of noise exposure.  Students will enjoy playing around with this one.

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Grades 6-12

Student Tutorials:

A visually appealing tutorial on the fundamentals of traveling waves.  It contains video clips, short animations, and interactive Q&A sets.  Each slide is voice narrated, which could be ideal for students with disabilities.  (Part of a full module on Waves.)

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: Grades 9-12

  Types of Mechanical Waves (12)

Lesson Plans:

Full guidelines for set-up of eight classroom activities designed to introduce students to various types of waves and the language used to describe them.  Students learn about transverse, longitudinal, electromagnetic, and water waves through simple and practical experiments.

Item Type: Hands-On Labs
Level: Grades 8-12

This lesson integrates a short video, "Making Big Waves", with a detailed lesson plan on using Slinky springs to model transverse and longitudinal waves.  This web site gives teachers great support in the form of background information on wave energy, discussion questions, and tips for implementing the activity effectively.

Item Type: Multimedia Lesson
Level: Grades 6-10
Duration: 50 minutes

A great way to spark student interest in wave motion is through the study of tsunamis.  This magazine article, which appeared in The Physics Teacher in 2006, provides a step-by-step blueprint for constructing your own low-cost tsunami tank for experimenting in the classroom.  Related classroom activities capture the essential physics of tsunamis.  Try teaming these activities with the interactive computer simulation below, "Michigan State Tsunami Simulator".

Item Type: Activity
Level: Grades 8-12

Activities:

A Slinky spring is one of the best ways to model both transverse and longitudinal waves.  Teaching tips in this web site explain how to get the best results. Try teaming this experiment with the one above that uses dynamics trolleys connected by springs.  Students can compare/contrast the wave motion in a continuous versus a dispersive system (trolleys).

Item Type: Hands-On Activity
Level: Grades 6-12
Duration: 30 minutes

A set of 3 high-quality video clips that show wave pulses on a Slinky spring.  One depicts a transverse wave pulse and its reflection off an fixed end.  A second shows a longitudinal pulse, and the third shows two wave pulses passing over each other. For free software tools to do computer analysis of these videos frame-by-frame, see the "Tracker Video Analysis" item below.

Item Type: Video Clip
Level: Grades 6-12

Mechanical waves can be modeled well through computer simulations that depict the motion of particles as the wave disturbance travels through a material.  This web-based tutorial for grades 6-12, developed by the University of Utah's ASPIRE Lab, is an excellent visualization tool for students.  Don't miss the water wave simulation.  It clearly shows the repeating pattern of a periodic wave, helping students understand that the particles oscillate but are not propelled forward by the wave.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 6-12

Do you know why a tsunami (which appears insignificant in the open ocean) can be so devastating upon reaching a shoreline?  That's because when it begins, it has a huge wavelength -- several hundred kilometers -- and a fast wave speed, compared to a surface wave.  As a tsunami approaches shore, all that energy has to go somewhere as the seabed shallows.  This interactive simulation, appropriate for grades 4-8 with teacher support, is an excellent model of a tsunami wave as it hits shore.  Students can change the shape of the sea bed at the coastline and watch the effects.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 4-8

This is a free video software tool for analyzing the motion captured in short video clips.  Its features include position, velocity, and acceleration tracking, multiple reference frames, and model analysis.  Students can analyze the motion of objects in a video and overlay simple dynamical models on the video to see how well the model matches the real world.  A detailed "help" section is available to users who are newcomers to video analysis software.

Item Type: Digital Tool

References and Collections:

Exactly what is a tsunami and how does it differ from a regular water wave?  Why is it so destructive to a shoreline when it looks harmless at sea?  This excellent resource from WNET-TV in New York features a magazine-style set of three articles on tsunamis, explaining what causes them and how they travel.  Don't miss the animation of a subduction-zone earthquake (a frequent cause of tsunami) and the interview with a survivor.

Item Type: Multimedia Reference
Level: Grades 6-12

One way to get students excited about wave energy is to study tsunamis.  How can a wave that is barely visible to a ship at sea become so destructive upon reaching a shoreline?  This set of tutorials, simple enough for students to understand, explains how these catastrophic wave trains originate and propagate through vast oceanic distances.  Each tutorial is accompanied by simulations that model the fundamentals of this phenomenon.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial

Content Support For Teachers:

This page, part of an award-winning web site on wave animations, shows how particles move in different types of waves.  Students can clearly see that the particles do not move along with the waves, they simply oscillate back and forth as the wave passes by.

Item Type: Content Support

This tutorial, part of the respected Physics Classroom web site, explores the three major types of mechanical waves:  transverse, longitudinal, and surface.  Also included is a brief discussion of electromagnetic waves. The author uses simple language and animations to make points clear, and there is a self-guided set of questions at the end.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial

  Wave Properties: Frequency, Amplitude, Period, Phase (6)

Lesson Plans:

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.

Item Type: Simulation-Based Activity
Level: Grades 6-9
Duration: Two Class Periods

Activities:

A wonderful way to introduce students to properties of waves.  As the students open the applet, they are invited to "wiggle" a string to create a wave.  They can set amplitude, frequency, damping, and string tension and watch the variable results.  Waves can be manually or automatically generated.  Finally, students can view the string's vibration with a fixed end, a loose end, or no end.  See related teacher-created activity (directly below), developed for use in middle school classrooms with "Wave On a String".

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 6-12

This printable student guide/worksheet was created by a middle school teacher specifically for use with the PhET "Wave on a String" simulation (see activity above).  Students gather data to explore how frequency, amplitude, wave speed, and string tension are related.

Item Type: Student Guide
Level: Grades 7-9
Duration: One Class Period

This student worksheet was developed by a high school teacher for use with the PhET simulation "Wave on a String".  It provides a very thorough road map for physical science students to learn about amplitude and frequency in an interactive environment.  Allow two days in the computer lab.

Item Type: Student Guide
Level: Grades 8-10

Content Support For Teachers:

It can be easy to confuse the frequency of a wave with a wave's quantity period.  This tutorial, part of The Physics Classroom, would be an excellent refresher on the topic for K-8 teachers.  A question-and-answer set at the end allows you to measure your own understanding.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial

A wave transports energy along a medium without transporting matter.  The amount of energy carried by a wave is related to its amplitude.  This is an excellent tutorial for K-8 teachers who want to a refresher in wave energy.  For a related tutorial by the same author, see the tutorial on Frequency and period of a Wave (directly above).

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial

  How Waves Move and Interact: Reflection, Refraction, Interference (5)

Lesson Plans:

Students should whenever possible experiment for themselves using real equipment, rather than viewing only computer representations of ripple phenomena.  This educators' guide gives detailed information about how to acquire, set up, and implement ripple tank experiments in the physical science or physics classroom.  See related ripple tank activities developed by the same authors (below).

Item Type: Educator's Guide
Level: Grades 6-12

Ripple tanks provide a powerful way to help students visualize wave behavior in general.  This set of 8 introductory labs allows students to become comfortable with ripple tanks by doing some simple experiments with pulses.  Appropriate for grades 6-12, with supervision.

Item Type: Lab Experiments
Level: Grades 6-12

Activities:

Exactly what happens to the amplitude of two waves on a single line when they meet each other?  Their amplitudes add.  This easy simulation helps students visualize exactly what is happening mathematically when two pulse waves "interfere" on a string.  They can slow the motion down to get a close look at the two wave graphs.  Be sure to ask them what happens if the two waves have the same frequency but one is positive and one negative (they cancel out at the point of greatest interference).

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 6-8

A nice simulation for exploring the basics of wave reflection and refraction.  It shows a single wavefront in slow motion as it reaches a medium with a different refractive index.  Students can see how each point of the advancing wavefront is the center of a fresh disturbance and source of a new train of waves.  They can adjust the refractive index and angle of incidence of either medium.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 8-12

Content Support For Teachers:

One of the best tutorials we have found on the topic of wave phenomena.  The author incorporates excellent animations and simulations to explain the process of wave interference, which occurs when one wave passes through another.  The section on wave properties is thorough, and would serve as solid content support for K-8 teachers.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial

  Standing Waves and Resonance (1)

References and Collections:

The phenomenon of resonance becomes very important in structural engineering, as can be observed in this historic video of the 1940 collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.  The famous suspension bridge disaster occurred when high wind gusts set up a resonant vibration in the bridge, causing large-amplitude oscillatory motion.  This video was digitally reformatted from the original film footage shot on the scene.

Item Type: Historic Video
Level: K-12
Duration: 5 Minutes

  The Physics of Sound (3)

Lesson Plans:

A set of exemplary modules related to sound and music, developed for use in middle school and high school.  It's broken into well-organized short components for teachers who may wish to teach only one element of this subject matter.  Included are lessons and activities on frequency, wavelength, amplitude, pitch, the physics of sound, rhythms and beats, standing waves, harmonic series, and tuning systems. Worksheets include answer keys.

Item Type: Instructional Unit
Level: Grades 6-12

References and Collections:

Don't be scared off by the title of this item.  It is a fascinating resource that features a "thematic search engine" for locating information and examples of sound, sound waves, acoustics, hearing, and other related topics.  Each topic is accompanied by audio clips from the library of the World Soundscape Project.  For example, the topic "Hearing Loss" contains an audio simulation of normal and impaired hearing as a result of noise exposure.  Students will enjoy playing around with this one.

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Grades 6-12

Student Tutorials:

This web site is a collection of tutorials on sound, with an emphasis on the basic physical properties of how humans hear.  Interactive java simulations let students create and hear their own sound wave patterns and take a journey through the human ear.  It is intended for middle and high school students.

Item Type: Tutorial Collection
Level: Grades 6-12