Science: Waves

Since we started a new science unit, I thought I’d ditch the numbering of the weeks.  In case you didn’t notice, I messed it up anyway.  This new unit will cover light, sound, and electricity.  Because understanding energy is such a big part of these topics, it’s strange to me that it’s a totally different section in The Usborne Science Encyclopedia, but whatever.  The kids liked that it’s a new unit.

WavesFirst of all, let me clarify by explaining that “waves” means ocean waves, sound waves, radio waves, and all the other electromagnetic waves.  This section simply introduces wave behavior.  We found some good resources.  There were several good book offerings about tsunamis at the library which we read, probably in part because of the tragic tsunami of a few years ago.  However, the best book we found was Waves: The Electromagnetic Universe by Gloria Skurzynski, which covered electromagnetic waves in a lot of detail, but not too much for the kids.  There were many fine books about sound waves, but we’re saving those for next week.  The Bill Nye the Science Guy episode about waves is excellent.  Here’s the, as always hilarious, music video from the episode:

We began with our notebooks by drawing simple waves and labeling the crest, trough and wavelength.  We talked about different kinds of waves and the kids knew that waves could be in the ocean or the water, that sound was waves and that some waves had, as Mushroom put it, “something to do with something like electricity.”

Product DetailsThen, drawing from the book Making Waves: Finding Out About Rhythmic Motion, we began a bunch of exploratory experiments.  This book was so excellent, that I went to see if there were others in the series, which is called the Boston Children’s Museum Activity Books.  I was delighted to find that there were, even in my library system (though I’m scratching my head at why I haven’t seen them before).  While we didn’t build some of the elaborate things the book called for, such as a wave generator or the clear wave experiment box, it was exactly the sort of book I want about science topics.  Instead of laying out just a few “cool” experiments, it suggested open-ended ways to explore the topic with different materials.

We began by playing with making waves using our fingers and various toys.  We started with a very shallow pan of water.  We added tiny floating confetti to see if it helped us observe the motion of the water.  Next, we went to the big, clear containers of water.  We did some of the same explorations, then added some food coloring to help us see the waves from the side.  In addition to just identifying the crests, trough and wavelengths, the kids made some good discoveries about how the waves move, for example if you start two waves in different directions.

In order to illustrate the idea that the water in the wave may move up and down but doesn’t change position, we moved to the living room to knock over rows of dominoes and knock a row of marbles so that the energy transfered through the marbles and sent the final marble rolling.  The kids understood this idea immediately, which made me feel good about all the learning we did about energy earlier in the year.

Next, we explored waves with rope, string and sheets.  We tried to see how many wavelengths we could get and how big or small we could make them.  The kids enjoyed this very much, as you can see below.

Finally, we looked at the electromagnetic spectrum a little bit.  We added an illustration of the different waves in the spectrum to our notebooks.  Then, the kids ran all over the house to find different things to show off that use the electromagnetic spectrum.  They found some obvious things, such as the microwave, the TV and the clock radio.  Then they found a couple things I hadn’t though about, such as the remote control, which I had to look up to be sure I had right (it uses infrared light).

Overall, I was happy with this introduction to the idea of waves in different forms, so I’m hoping they remember some of the concepts as we tackle sound and light in the next few weeks.

4 thoughts on “Science: Waves

    1. I hadn’t thought about that… I’ll definitely put a page with a link to all of them on a tab on my blog here. And if I get enterprising enough, I’ll probably also put up a link to my spreadsheet where I’ve got all my resources and and so forth mapped out, though that will require polishing that up a little.

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