Making Waves: How does energy move through water?

Barbara Adams
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Experiment/Lab Activity , Article
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This Science and Children article includes background information for the teacher and three investigations to share with the students. First, students create waves using a jump rope, then water, and then they model the movement of molecules using marbles and a book. Through these activities, students will develop an understanding of how energy moves through all types of waves, and they will model the process of energy transfer. The activities use simple materials, but are effective at demonstrating wave energy. The instructional guide suggests questions (with answers) that may be used to guide student learning.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
- none -
Access Restrictions

Available by subscription - The right to view and/or download material, often for a set period of time, by way of a financial agreement between rights holders and authorized users.

Performance Expectations

4-PS4-1 Develop a model of waves to describe patterns in terms of amplitude and wavelength and that waves can cause objects to move.

Clarification Statement: Examples of models could include diagrams, analogies, and physical models using wire to illustrate wavelength and amplitude of waves.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include interference effects, electromagnetic waves, non-periodic waves, or quantitative models of amplitude and wavelength.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Although this resource does not explicitly address the terms 'amplitude' and 'wavelength', the teacher could easily expand the first activity with the jump rope to teach those terms. The students could use the rope to make several waves, and then use the tape to mark and measure the wavelength and the amplitude of the waves.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The activities in this resource allow students to create models of waves. Although the beginning wave models in the second and third activities are developed by the teacher, the students are allowed to explore and develop their own models after the original activity. This would be a good activity to discuss the concept of models. Scientists use models to represent things in nature where we cannot reasonably expect to use the original item. It would not be reasonable to have the ocean in our classroom to watch waves, but the jump rope models the same movement. It would not be reasonable to expect to look at the movement of each molecule because they are too small for us to see without a very sophisticated microscope, but the marbles help us to see the same type of energy transfer. When using models, some questions to address are: How is the model like the real object? How is it different from the real object? How could we modify our model to make it more accurate? If textbooks are not available to use with the molecule activity, students could also roll marbles down the middle of a plastic ruler to model energy transfer. An idea for a more dynamic introduction for this activity is to show a video of large ocean waves as well as a video of sound breaking a glass, and then introduce the focusing questions “What is is happening in the videos?" "What makes those waves?" "What do you see?" "What do you hear?" "Do you see similarities?" Differences?" By using these questions, students could develop a model of their thinking about what is happening. Students could first draw individually in notebooks, and then work with a partner to collaborate and come up with one initial explanation for what they think is happening. This might be followed by a 'scientist meeting' where the students discuss these early ideas before they actually do the investigation. When the activity has been completed, the students could go back and use different colored markers to revise their model after the instruction. They could then individually write an explanation of their model.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The information from the Teacher Background section, while not student-friendly, gives the needed information for this Disciplinary Core Idea. The teacher could use the information and relate it in kid-friendly terms to the students. The activity where food coloring and the portion of the drinking straw are added to the water address this core idea well. If wavelength and amplitude are introduced in the first activity with the jump rope, then the Disciplinary Core Idea "Waves of the same type can differ in amplitude (height of the wave) and wavelength (spacing between wave peaks)" can be addressed, as well.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The patterns of waves in the model can be used to explain the natural phenomena of energy moving through waves. Asking the question, "How can you explain the movement of waves in terms of patterns?" would strengthen the connection to patterns.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The resource does a good job of modeling waves and energy movement in various materials. The activities allow students to see that while the energy moves, the water (or marble or jump rope) stays in the same place. The activity does not address the ideas of wavelength or amplitude unless the suggested changes under Performance Expectation Tips are included. If they are included, than this resource is a Superior fit for the standard.

  • Instructional Supports: This activity allows students to observe the movement of energy in a rope, in water, and in marbles. By using different media, students begin to see the pattern of energy movement. This activity is especially good for students that are kinesthetic learners or ESL students, since the amount of reading is limited.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Monitoring Student Progress Comments: Students can be assessed based upon teacher observations and questioning, as well as their written work.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -