Sound Waves and Ocean Waves

Melodie Brewer
Type Category
Instructional Materials
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.



This lesson connects life science with physical science.  The life science aspect is investigating how animals communicate, while the physical science focuses on how sound waves travel underwater.  Students will use a video of whale songs to start the inquiry learning process.  From that point students will use a KWL chart to record their initial, and developed understanding.  The KWL charts focuses on what students know about sound.  A PBS video is then used to build interest and enhance initial knowledge. The next step in the lesson is a sound activity that is completed together in a large group format. Students will use slinkys to model and observe waves.  In the More Resources portion of the lesson students can also use PHeT simulations to develop deeper knowledge of waves and their interactions.  Pairs of students then complete math problems to understand how waves move through water.  The lesson is assessed by having students update their KWL chart to reflect their knowledge growth.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-PS4-2 Develop and use a model to describe that waves are reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through various materials.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on both light and mechanical waves. Examples of models could include drawings, simulations, and written descriptions.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to qualitative applications pertaining to light and mechanical waves.

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
Students use a model, the slinky, to describe how waves are transmitted through materials such as water. However, there is little development of the process from the student perspective. A suggestion is to have students draw a model of how waves move on their KWL chart at the start of the lesson. In the activity, compression waves are made using the slinky. Students actively create this type of wave and analyze its parts. An extension would be to also have students make transverse waves by moving the slinky back and forth. This would give students more information to add to the KWL chart, and allow for a discussion on the two types of waves. The compression wave model could be revised as the students work through the various stages of the lesson. This would make the explicitness of the PE more direct.

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
This practice can be utilized at different points of the lesson. In the initial KWL phase students will use their background knowledge as a base of understanding. As the students continue through the investigation using the slinky, students are able to create compression waves that will be used to describe the phenomena of how sound travels through water. The students questions on page 4 of the “Sound Activity” resource allows students the opportunity to use their slinky wave to understand how waves move under the water, which helps to meet the goals of the activity. As previously suggested in the Performance Expectation tips, if students were also to use the slinky to make longitudinal waves, better comparisons could be made as to how waves travel, not only through water, but also other media. The background for this is established for the teacher in the “Helpful Vocabulary” on p. 2 of the Sound Activity. Transverse waves, wavelength, and frequency are established in this portion of the pre-activity guide for the teacher. Comparing the two types of waves and adding that information, with drawn models, would assist in student understanding of the phenomena. An additional extension could be developed and modeled in the classroom by experimenting with sound and/or light underwater. Placing a light, or laser, on the outside of an aquarium, and/or playing music in a sealed container in the aquarium, could lead to some interesting data collection.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The literacy section on p. 3 of the “Sound Activity” is a solid set up for the student activity. Students should understand compression prior to the actual activity. The activity then connects the reading to what the students are experiencing. The questions on p. 4 and the reading on p 5 offer students the opportunity to compare models. Also on p. 5 are links to animations. These animations can reinforce what students did themselves, as well as serve as a nice differentiation piece for students who learn better through visual means. The main focus of this lesson is compression waves, but transverse waves, especially those in the electromagnetic spectrum, are discussed on p. 5 in “Sound vs. Light in the Sea.” Having students create models of both types of waves would allow for better understanding of the overall concepts, but also would heighten the depth of the DCI. The models could easily be completed on the student KWL chart. This would help students with the amplitude portion of the DCI. Amplitude can be difficult for students to model in a compression wave, but can see it more clearly in a transverse model.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The main feature of this activity is the modeling that the students complete with the slinky. Students are prompted to make one compressions wave and analyze its energy. Having the model show more than one compression wave at a time would assist students’ understanding that waves are repeated and that their energy is more than one pulse. If students were prompted to gather a grouping of 8-10 slinky links, and release them 2 or 3 at a time students could observe how this behavior is different than just one wave being produced.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students engage with compression waves as the focal point of the investigation. The SEP investigation could be taken further by adding more compression waves, by comparing transverse waves to the investigation. The DCI is well established, but would also be strengthened with the previous suggestion. The CCC would also benefit by a deeper, or expanded, model use. While students use the compression model provided, they should be encouraged to draw their own models to describe the motion of waves. Through the investigation students could revise their model, or add a comparison if another type of wave was introduced. If a revision of the model were made by the student, it would help the overall depth of the activity.

  • Instructional Supports: The sound wave phenomenon this activity brings into play both life science and physical science concepts, through using the phenomena of whales using echolocation and humans using SONAR to communicate. Throughout the lesson sequence, students have multiple opportunities to express their ideas and respond to feedback verbally and orally In addition, the math component may connect this lesson to an interdisciplinary or thematic unit. The extensions, follow-up, and additional resources make this a lesson that could be sustained by multiple classes for a number of days, with resource suggested to help differentiate for all levels of students.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Although students are addressing the three dimensions in various ways, the lesson lacks intentional student progress monitoring. The KWL chart that begins and ends the lesson offers solid opportunities for formative assessments. The lesson could incorporate a formative assessment by having students draw a scene of the video showing a property of sound. This lesson also lacks any type of formal rubrics, but does include answer keys. The math component, as well as any language arts extension, offers a logical place for rubrics to be developed. A modeling assessment showing student understanding of waves, features, and structures is one suggestion on how to assess students at the end of the lesson. The questions provided in the documents primarily address the DCI in this activity, and could be supported with additional attention to the practice and crosscutting concept to assess the three-dimensions.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -