What Are Waves?

Betterlesson.com Melissa Romano
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Experiment/Lab Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan
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.



Students explore making waves using everyday objects to begin developing an understanding of how waves are made, that waves carry energy, and that there are different types of waves. Students investigate examples of transverse and longitudinal waves at stations and use their science notebooks to record observations and predict the type of wave they are creating.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 4
Access Restrictions

Free access with user action - The right to view and/or download material without financial barriers but users are required to register or experience some other low-barrier to use.

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 appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This introductory lesson is more teacher directed than student centered. Although students have the opportunity to explore and use different models for making waves, they are not asked to create a working model of what they observe. A suggestion might be to ask students before investigating the models set up by the teacher, what they know about waves. Then the video of the sports crowd wave, could be used as an anchoring task. After viewing it, students could sketch a beginning model of what they think a wave looks like in their science notebooks. These student developed models could then be revised after investigating the different types of waves created at the stations. The concept of transverse and longitudinal waves are not part of the disciplinary core ideas and the definitions of these do not need to be included in this lesson. The stations could be used for students to build on their initial ideas of waves and how waves behave. Students can use these stations as a way to describe the patterns they observe through diagrams and sketches, and to then revise their understanding of waves and wave behavior.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The teacher defines both the definition of waves and the difference between transverse and longitudinal waves for students before they begin exploring. This does not allow for students prior knowledge or for them to begin to construct their own explanations and definitions using models they created. A way to ensure closer alignment to this practice, students could create an initial model of waves based on either the teacher demonstration (such as dropping the rock in the dishpan or something larger so they can really observe wave motion), viewing the sports fan wave video, or exploring the stations first. Students need to express prior knowledge in order for the teacher to recognize any misconceptions. Developing models of their ideas and later revising these models based on their experiences and inquiry into the phenomena is inherent to NGSS 3 dimensional learning.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This lesson has many opportunities for students to explore, observe, investigate, and describe the phenomena of waves. One of the stations includes a container of water where students drop a rock in and observe the waves created. This station is a great opportunity to have students investigate deeper into the core of idea that waves are regular patterns of motion which can be made in water by disturbing the surface. The other two stations could be used for students to explore making waves using different models as well as using these models to observe and investigate the phenomena of amplitude and frequency, rather than transverse and longitudinal waves.

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
This lesson has the potential to engage students further in the concept of patterns as well as cause and effect. Each station offers the opportunity for students to observe wave patterns. Students could not only sort and classify the wave behavior they observe, but also analyze it as they make changes to the amplitude and/or frequency of the waves. The lesson focuses on exploring transverse and longitudinal waves, but has many aspects that would lend itself to wave properties and the patterns that waves display in terms of amplitude and frequency.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: While this particular lesson is limited in its alignment to the dimensions of NGSS, it has the potential, with a few modifications as outlined in the review, to be more 3 dimensional and provide students with the opportunity to develop and use elements of the scientific practices such as asking questions and conducting investigations, and engagement with the core ideas and cross cutting concepts. This can be done by asking students to develop models of waves based on their observations and to then describe the patterns they observe in the stations rather than using those activities to learn about transverse and longitudinal waves. The teacher could also use the terms cause and effect, models, and patterns in scientist meetings to reinforce these important aspects of the performance expectation. The background NGSS video at the beginning of this lesson for teachers is excellent for providing educators with the background knowledge they need to feel more confident teaching this difficult and complex topic.

  • Instructional Supports: There are several instructional supports in this lesson that allow students to engage in meaningful scientific practice. The use of stations provide students with firsthand experience with the phenomena. The use of science notebooks allows students to express and represent their ideas and understanding of the concepts. It also provides opportunities for students to connect their explanations to their own experiences and investigations through the use of videos, demonstrations, hands-on experiences, discussion, and explaining in their notebooks with words and diagrams.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This lesson elicits direct and observable evidence of student learning through the work in their notebooks, the use of video-taping students' investigations, and discussion. This is an introductory lesson and a means of formative assessment. The addition of having students create and revise their own models of the patterns of wave behavior they observe would help strengthen this rating. Having students first share their prior experiences with waves and then revisit and add to/modify their understanding could be another means of assessing directly their growing understanding of the core ideas. Using students' notebooks for formative assessment throughout the unit would allow more embedded and ongoing assessment of their conceptual development and understanding of the practices and crosscutting concepts. While the lesson itself is not fully 3 Dimensional, it has the potential to be and these strategies for monitoring student progress are part of effective assessment practices.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The use of the background information video from NGSS for teachers is very valuable and can help teachers gain more confidence in their own understanding. The you-tube video of the crowd wave is effective as an anchoring video and as a way to access students' prior knowledge. The teacher uses video to capture students' investigations. This technique could be also used where students use the video clips as a way to help them explain and perhaps present more effectively their observations and explanations. There are other videos embedded in the unit. Some contain more information than is necessary for students at this point, but are effective in preparing teachers to teach this content.