Waves NGSS MS-PS4-1 and PS4-2


In the Waves mini unit, students create transverse and longitudinal waves, play with two PhET simulations and explore wave behavior with flashlights, beakers, water and oil. Then, students analyze graphs of seismograph wave amplitude and earthquake magnitude to answer the question How is the amplitude of a wave related to the energy in that wave?


Extension activities challenge students to argue which type of electromagnetic energy is most important. Is popping popcorn in the microwave more essential than texting?

Anchor Phenomenon Ideas: Share this looking through water phenomenon with your students and/or let them play with slinkies. Then, use the questions they come up with about waves to make connections throughout your unit.

Make it Relevant: Focus on sound waves and music as you engage students in this unit. This TED-Ed talk answers the question: Can loud music damage your hearing?

Tips and Tricks: Encourage students to take the time to really explore waves within the two PhET simulations: Waves and Waves on a String. Their boxes for question four should be completely filled with observations, wonderings and questions.

Continue to support play as learning as kids work with the flashlights, beakers, water, mirrors and other materials you have available for question five. Challenge students to show examples of wave transmission, reflection and absorption in the lab and record their observations in detail. Again, fill the box entirely!

To the right is a student sample of question five. When reviewing the drawings, I asked how they know the light is reflected off the mirror. They explained that they could see the light bounce off the mirror and onto their hand!

The summative assessment asks students to analyze data from two graphs then answer the question How is the amplitude of a wave related to the amount of energy in that wave?


Help students make the jump from light and sound waves to earthquake waves by providing some quick background knowledge/ review. This five minute video - Earthquakes 101 by National Geographic - reviews seismographs and the Moment Magnitude scale used in the assessment.

Enrichment Ideas: Challenge students to replicate and expand on this fluorescent olive oil experiment outlined by the American Physical Society. Do different types of oil yield similar results? What happens if you use a flashlight or a laser of a different color?