When most students think about waves, they think about the sea. The challenge for a science teacher is to encourage them to consider other wave phenomena, too.
I start by getting students to come up with words associated with waves by writing a cinquain - a five-line poem. The first line is the one-word title (in this case "waves"); the second consists of two verbs; the third has three adjectives; the fourth, a four-word sentence; and the fifth line is one word summarising the poem. An example might be:
Fast, high, long
Small ones are ripples
This activity gets students thinking about waves as being more than simply curls of water that can be used for surfing.
Next, I start building their knowledge of wave types. I hold up examples and ask, "What makes this a wave?"
You can make these very visual - for example, by showing light waves from a laser pointer and using talcum powder to make the laser visible. Students love this.
Then I take the class out to my "corridor of physics" and ask them to line up facing the back of the person ahead of them. I stand at the front of the line and ask the student behind me to copy my movements and the student behind them to copy them, and so on. We do a Mexican wave. Then I send four shapes down the wave, which spell out YMCA. Even young people in 2014 know this song.
Back in the classroom, we start a discussion about exactly how we can define a wave and the different types that exist.
Simon Porter teaches for international schools organisation Nord Anglia Education
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