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Skip to 0 minutes and 0 seconds The topic of waves lends itself to progression really because you’ve got to start with a concrete understanding of what a wave really is. I always start with water waves and see if they can describe their experience at the seaside as the wave goes past. And they bob up and down rather than move along the wave and so on. And I get inside different movements and see it in reality. And I guess we can move on to do some experiments with water waves and time the speed of the waves. Because, again, it’s something that they can link to everyday experience. Then with the water waves, you can then start teaching the wave equation.

Skip to 0 minutes and 32 seconds And again, doing that by counting the waves when they the fixed point in a fixed time. I’ve used my phone with a slow motion camera to do that and to show them. And that’s worked really nicely, so we can actually put two rulers on, measure the length of the wave. And if you’ve got a second phone with a stopwatch, you can really get the real time as it’s going it’s way, so that works really well. After water waves, it’s very much a case of them moving onto the ones that you can’t see. So sound waves first because you can actually feel those and sense the speakers and things.

Skip to 0 minutes and 59 seconds And then I’d move on to the light waves and the electromagnetic spectrum after that. When you’re teaching electromagnetic spectrum, that gets quite problematic because they can’t see those and they can’t feel them. So we’ve got to get some way to actually understand what they are, what they do. So I often start just having a circuit, sort of having a set up of each of the different source of waves. So I start with the radio set or the TV for the radio waves , microwave oven, a heater , a lamp. Maybe an ultraviolet lamp if you got those. With some sort of fluorescent material.

Skip to 1 minute and 28 seconds And then moving right way down the picture of an x-ray, if you can get hold of one. Then gamma, it’s just some sort of radioactive source at the end or a piece of granite or something that needs a detector. And actually getting them to understand that there’s something there is important I think. And just feel for what they do, and what they are. The extra bits about understanding is the electromagnetic waves vibrating at right angles like that– is a big leap for most students. And I start off by saying, “How does stuff get across space from your Sun? What can we feel? We feel the heat, we can feel light.

Skip to 2 minutes and 2 seconds And this idea that it’s the waves, and then to try to link in what those things– like the light have– in common with the water waves and the sound waves we’ve already seen. And so they can only work out they can only be those things. They’ve got to be waves.

A teacher's perspective

In the previous steps, you came up with a progression map for waves. In this video, you’ll hear from an experienced teacher explaining how they structure their teaching of the waves topic.

There are certain points in the wave topic that can link out to other areas of the physics curriculum, this is something we will look at further in the next activity.


Compare your own approach and that of others on this course with Peter’s in the video. How has your thinking about progression and your teaching of the waves topic changed?

Make some notes on your reflection grid for this week

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This video is from the free online course:

Teaching Practical Science: Physics

National STEM Learning Centre