Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Riding the Wave

Sean Kavanaugh


Students will be introduced to waves through hands-on demonstrations and a concept map scavenger hunt. Students will then perform fun activities to help identify the properties of waves (crest, trough, amplitude, wavelength, frequency, and wave speed).


The student knows the properties of waves (frequency, amplitude, wavelength).

The student knows how to compare and contrast the properties of particles and waves.

The student uses common items (a pebble dropped in water, a marble dropped in sand) to demonstrate that vibrations in materials set up visible disturbances that spread away from a force in all directions.


Day 1
- Surfer Costume & Props (Hawaiian shirt, wet suit, sun glasses, sun tan lotion, surfboard, and
- Air Cannon (5-gallon bucket with 2.5 to 3 inch circular hole in the center of the bottom, sheet of thick rubber/shower curtain, large hose clamp/duct tape)
- Drumstick
- Candle
- Lighter/matches
- Wave Pre/Post Test handout (see file)
- -Making Waves- handout (see file)
- Circular aluminum pie pans - approximately 8, (1 per cooperative group)
- Corks (1 per cooperative group)
- 500mL beaker (1 per cooperative group)
- Blue food coloring (for teacher only)
- Water source
- Pipette (1 per cooperative group)
- Ruler (1 per group)
- A Wave of Information handout- (may be supplemented with Science Voyages Level Red textbook, or other information source)
- Wave Bottle (clear bottle with lid, blue food coloring, water, mineral oil)

Day 2
- 6 meter Slinky spring toy (1 per cooperative group)
- 10 foot piece of rope
- Message In A Bottle handout
- Pixie Stix Pendulum (1-liter bottle with hole in cap, masking tape, pencil, string)
- Bottom 1/2 of 1-liter bottle filled with sand or Pixie Stix powder and one Message In A Bottle handout for each student (see file)
- Pixie Stix powder
- Calculator (1 per cooperative group)
- Chalk (1 piece per cooperative group)
- Meter stick (1 per cooperative group)
- CD player/ Sting CD with Message In A Bottle song
- Stopwatch (1 per cooperative group)

Day 3 & 4
- It's Slinky, It's Slinky handout (see file)
- 6 meter Slinky spring toy (1 per cooperative group)
- Sidewalk chalk
- Pen/pencil
- Black bulletin board paper (8 foot length per cooperative group)
- Whiteboard/markers
- Chalkbox
- Tape measures
- Wave Pre/Post Test (see file)


Day 1
1. Obtain some props and costume representative of a surfer (wet suit, Hawaiian shirt, sun glasses, etc.)
2. Go to the following web site to review procedure for
creating "Air Cannon." Build the air cannon and review
the content of demonstration. (Air Cannon).(Cut a 2.5 to 3 inch circular hole in the center of the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket. Stretch a sheet of thick rubber or shower curtain over the open end of the bucket. Secure and seal it with a long hose clamp or use string and duct tape)
3. Place student materials for "Making Waves-hands-on" demonstration at each station. (8" circular aluminum pie pan, cork, 500mL beaker of blue-colored water, pipette, meter stick).
4. Create a "Wave Bottle" using: one clear bottle (washed and labels removed) with lid, mineral oil, water, and blue food coloring. Fill the bottle half full with water, add two or three drops of food coloring, and shake to mix. Next
fill the bottle to the top with mineral oil and screw the lid on securely. Since the liquids will not mix, the blue water sits under the mineral oil creating wave like action as the bottle is turned on its side and moved
slowly in a teeter-totter fashion. The liquids will create a wave like motion.
5. Make copies of "Wave Pre/Post Test", "Making Waves", and "A Wave of Information" handouts.

Day 2
1. Organize the chairs into two or three rows of ten chairs each for the wave review before each class.
2. Tie a piece of rope to the door, cabinet, or other fixed object.
3. Build one Pixie Stix Pendulum for each cooperative group. For each pendulum, obtain a 1-liter bottle and empty out the contents. Use a utility knife to cut the bottle in half. Fill the bottom half of the bottle with sand
and stick the "Message In A Bottle" student handouts in there. Use the top half to create the actual pendulum. Create two holes on opposite sides of the end without the cap using a single-hole punch. Using a piece of string, loop the string into each hole and tie a knot creating a handle. The pencil will be used to help lift the handle and serve as a pivot for the pendulum. Drill a hole, approximately ľ - in the cap and loosely tighten it. Fill the top half of the bottle with Pixie Stix powder or other powder substance.
4. Obtain listed materials for activity and make copies of "Message In A Bottle" handout.
5. Obtain Sting CD with "Message in a Bottle" song and CD player. This is optional, but will enhance the lesson.

Day 3 & 4
1. Review the scientific method and procedure for creating a written lab report.
2. Obtain listed materials and make copies of "Itís Slinky, Itís Slinky" handout.
3. Make copies of "Wave Pre/Post Test."


Day 1
1. Generate student interest by dressing in surfer attire, which may include a Hawaiian shirt, wet suit, sunglasses, sandals, suntan lotion and a boogie board or surfboard.

2. Introduce the lesson on waves by performing the "Air Cannon" demonstration for the class. Walk around the classroom and ask students to examine the contents of the bucket. Most students will make the quick observation that the bucket is empty. Light a candle so all students can observe. Position the air cannon so that, when struck with a drumstick, it emits a "wave" of air that puts out the flame. Ask students to make an inference based on their observations.

3. Using the whiteboard and markers, create a graphic organizer of all the waves students can identify. For example, wave bye-bye, tidal wave, etc. (A fishbone organizer format works well with this theme!)

4. Administer the Wave PreTest located in the associated file. Circulate around the room and check for comprehension. Collect.

5. Brainstorm a definition of a wave. Accept all reasonable answers and record on the board.

6. Distribute the Making Waves handout. Call on a student volunteer to read the introductory paragraph that will stimulate interest and focus on the Making Waves hands-on demonstration.

7. Working cooperatively, students will fill a pie pan with approximately 2 cm of water. Students will then fill the pipette with water and release a single drop onto the waterís surface and observe the results. Students will determine the direction the circular waves travel (outward or inward) and record on the handout.

8. Students will then float a small cork on the surface of the water in the middle of the pie pan. After the water settles, students will release a single drop of water approximately every 3 seconds from a height of about 10 cm near, but not on the cork. Circulate around the room and check for comprehension while answering questions. Students will observe the effect this has on the cork and record their response on the handout.

9. Students will repeat Step 7, but release the single drops from a height of about 20 cm. Students will observe the effect the increased height of the dropped water will have on the cork and record observations on the handout.

10. Students will read background information on the definition of a wave, the types of waves, and the properties of waves. The [Science Voyages] (Level Red) textbook, pages 116-120, the attached A Wave of Information handout, or other resources can be used.

11. When students finish reading, they will organize the key concepts in a concept map and complete the feedback questions.

12. Engage the students in a review of the key concepts. If time permits, arouse your studentsí interest in waves by passing around wave bottles. (A wave bottle imitates the motion of waves using the action of a liquid -- a mixture of water and mineral oil. See the directions in teacher preparation to make a wave bottle.) Students will be amazed by the wave-like action and should be able to identify the crest and trough of each wave.

13. For homework, students will think critically to create a cartoon explaining why sound waves canít travel in outer space.

Day 2
1. Review the expected responses for the Making Waves handout using props and demonstrations.
a) Reinforce wave movement by organizing students into two or three rows of ten chairs each and then having them demonstrate the sports stadium wave. (People stand up with their hands in the air and then sit back down.) Alternatively, have students stand side by side with their arms to the left. Have students create a wave by sweeping their hands over their heads from left to right, each person starting as the one before finishes. After going back and forth a few times yell stop and have students identify the crest and trough. Ask how this human wave is similar to an ocean wave.
b) Brainstorm examples of the two types of waves: mechanical (sound, water, etc.) and electromagnetic (x-rays, microwaves, etc.).
c) Demonstrate a transverse wave (matter moves back and forth at right angles to the direction the wave travels) by shaking a piece of rope tied to the door handle up and down and a compressional wave (matter in the medium moves forward and backward in the same direction) by stretching a Slinky and pushing it back together. Students will provide definitions of the following parts as you create waves:
* Crest: highest point of a wave
* Trough: lowest point of a wave
* Compression: particles of a wave become more dense and close together
* Rarefaction: particles of a wave become less dense and farther apart

2. Generate student interest by directing their attention to the supplies at each station. Each station will have a Pixie Stix Pendulum, a group set of handouts titled Message In A Bottle, a piece of chalk, and an 8í piece of black bulletin board paper.

3. Call on a student volunteer to come to the board and draw a transverse wave. Determine the previous knowledge of the students by asking them what the crest, trough, wavelength, amplitude, wave speed, and frequency represents. Walk them through the process of correctly labeling and defining each property of the wave.

4. Direct students to remove the message from the bottle and follow the written procedure. Students should become familiar with the Pixie Stix Pendulums that you have created and placed at each station.

5. Students will position the pendulum directly in the center of one end of the paper about 6" above the surface. One team member should be holding the wooden dowel and the cap should be facing the paper. A second team member will pull the bottle back to the edge of the paper and remove the tape from over the cap while releasing the bottle (creating a pendulum). A third team member will slowly pull the piece of paper in a straight and steady fashion. A fourth team member will time the event. Time should be started when the first drop of the powder hits the paper and stopped when the sand no longer is dropping on the paper. ** Students may need to repeat this procedure several times until the desired results are obtained!

6. Students will now use the chalk to label the transverse wave they created. They will refer to the property descriptions and then use the chalk to write the wave properties on the paper in the correct locations. Circulate around the room and monitor the progress of the students while answering any questions.

7. Engage the students in a discovery discussion on what they learned about the crest, trough, amplitude, wavelength, wave speed and frequency of a wave.

8. For the remainder of the class, play the song "Message in a Bottle" by Sting while students complete the feedback questions from activity.

1. Review the expected responses for the Message in a Bottle handout. Students should have a clear understanding of wave properties such as: trough, crest, amplitude, wavelength, wave speed, and wave frequency.

2. Divide the class into two groups and have them debate the difference between transverse and compressional waves. Ensure students have a strong grasp of the difference between transverse and compressional waves by reteaching these concepts through hands-on activities.

3. Distribute the Itís Slinky! Itís Slinky! handouts and take a survey of students who have owned or played with the toy. Have some books set up at different heights across the demo table representative of stairs and push Slinky across down them while students sing the slinky song.

4. Working in pairs, students will read the introductory paragraph on the handout and then complete the two demonstrations that reinforce transverse and compressional waves using a Slinky.

5. In the first demonstration, students will place a large Slinky on a smooth, level surface. Each student will hold one of the ends firmly. Students will stretch the spring until the coils are no more than 1 cm apart. One student will quickly move his/her end of the spring sideways about 20 cm, then quickly return it to its original position. A pulse should travel along its length and reach their partner. Students will compare the direction that the medium (Slinky) moved to the direction of the pulse (wave). Students will illustrate this on the handout using arrows to show the direction the pulse and medium.

6. In the second demonstration, students will stretch the Slinky out across a smooth surface. One student, while holding his/her end of the Slinky with one hand, will reach down the spring with the other hand and pull about 10 or
15 coils towards them creating a bundle of coils at the end. That student will quickly release the bundle. Once the Slinky has settled, one student will quickly push one end of the coiled spring toward their partner and then pull it back to its original position. Students will observe the direction in which the pulse moves and the direction in which the coils of the medium (Slinky) move. Students will illustrate this on the handout using arrows to show the direction the pulse and medium.

7. Circulate around the room and monitor the success and comprehension of the students as they create the two types of waves and sketch the results on the handout. Discuss the expected responses.

8. Inform students that they completed the two demonstrations with good speed. Discuss whetherwaves travel fast or slow. Ask if sound waves travel faster than light waves. Use the analogy of fireworks to reinforce how light waves are faster than sound waves.

9. Students will read the background information regarding wave speed. (Source of information is page 123 of [Science Voyages] Level Red textbook). Make sure students understand that Hz is the unit used to measure frequency Ė > one Hz is = 1/s.

10. Provide a couple of sample problems on the board or how to determine wave frequency and wave speed using the formulas:

number of pulses
a) frequency = ------------------------
seconds timed

b) speed = wavelength x frequency

11. Introduce the guidelines and expectations for the Doing The Waveactivity and review the scientific method. Students will work in cooperative
groups of four to complete the activity. For extended homework, students may begin to create the written lab report for Doing The Wave. At this point, students can come up with a title, the purpose, the hypothesis, a list of materials, and a projected procedure. Students can also create a blank data to record the results in.

Day 4

1. Review the guidelines and expectations for the Doing The Wave lab activity.

2. Students will go outside and use the listed materials to determine who changing the altitude of a wave will affect the speed of the wave.

3. Allot the last 10 minutes for adminstration of the Wave Post Test.


This assessment consists of formative assessments as follows: experiment sheet, concept map, term map and a post-test which can be used as a summative when the teacher feels students are ready.

Web Links

Web supplement for Riding the Wave
Air Cannon

Attached Files

Handouts and background information.     File Extension: pdf

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