A-Z STEM Saturday, W Is for Waves

From ripples on the surface of a lake to light from distant stars, waves have an incredible impact on our lives, and the world around us. But just what are waves?

A-Z STEM Saturday, W Is for Waves

Put simply, a wave is an energy transfer. Waves represent the movement of energy from one place to another without moving any matter in the process.

We took a closer look at the incredible phenomenon of waves and how they exist in our world, as well as exploring some of the best ways that you can explore this topic in the classroom.

What Are Waves?

First things first: what is a wave?

At its most basic level, a wave is an energy transfer. They are created when something vibrates or moves and sends out a pattern of energy.

The type of wave, and the direction it goes in, depend on how the thing that created it moved. For example, as sound waves move through air molecules, they cause them to vibrate and create what we hear as sound.

Some of the main types of waves include:

Light Waves

Light waves are electromagnetic radiation and travel at the fastest speed of all known forms of energy. They are produced by electric charges, such as those found in stars and other celestial bodies.

On Earth, we can often see light waves reflected off of surfaces like mirrors and glass.

Sound Waves

Sound waves are created when something vibrates, such as when a guitar string is plucked or when one person speaks to another. These waves travel through the air and can be heard when they reach our ears.

Radio Waves

Radio waves are a part of the electromagnetic spectrum and are used to transmit radio and television signals. They travel at the speed of light and can be modified in order to carry different types of information.

These waves can easily pass through walls and other objects, making them perfect for broadcasting signals over long distances.

Water Waves

Water waves are created when energy is transferred from the wind across the surface of bodies of water, such as oceans and lakes. The size of these waves depends on the strength and direction of the wind, as well as the depth of the body of water.

Tidal waves are powerful ocean waves caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun. They can be extremely destructive and often cause massive flooding in coastal areas.

While they usually occur near continents, they can travel thousands of miles before reaching land.

Electric Waves

Electric waves, also known as electric fields, are generated by electric charges. They can be used to transmit information, such as phone calls and emails. Electric waves also make up the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes light, X-rays, and gamma rays.

What Causes Waves?

As we mentioned, waves are created when energy is transferred from one place to another. This could be the movement of air molecules, sound waves traveling through the air, or a stone dropped in water.

In each case, the energy creates ripples and vibrations that travel outward until they reach their destination.

Many of these waves can travel over long distances and even across different mediums. Light, for example, can travel through a vacuum (the empty space between stars), and sound waves can travel for miles in the air.

How Can We Explore Waves In The Classroom?

How Can We Explore Waves In The Classroom?

Exploring waves can be a fun and interactive way to introduce students to the world of science. Here are some of our favorite ways to explore this topic:

Build A Wave Machine

This may sound super technical, but it’s actually a lot simpler than it sounds! All you need is a container full of water, and some materials like marbles or rubber bands to create vibrations.

Have students experiment with different waves, speeds, and directions to see what happens. This can be great for introducing the concept of wave energy transfer in an interactive way.

Create A Wave Model

This is another great way to get students thinking about how waves move and transfer energy. All you need is a shallow tray, some water, and a few objects to act as the “wave”. 

Have students experiment by dropping different objects in the water and observing what happens.

They can also try changing the depth of the water or the size of the objects to see how it affects the wave pattern – this is great for introducing waves in a tactile and visual way.

Try An Experiment With Sound

Sound waves can be tricky to observe directly, so experiments are a great way to get students actively exploring this concept. For example, have them place various materials between two speakers and observe how different objects (such as cardboard, paper, and glass) affect the sound of the wave.

This is a great way to get students thinking about the properties of sound waves, and how they travel through different materials.

Create A Ripple Pond

Another great activity for exploring wave energy is to create a ripple pond. All you need is a large container of water, and something like an object or your hand to create the ripples. 

Have students observe how the waves move outwards from the center, and how objects placed in the pond change the wave pattern. This can help them gain a better understanding of how waves work and what causes them.

Final Thoughts

Waves are an important and fascinating part of the world around us. Exploring them in the classroom can be a great way to introduce students to science, and help them gain a better understanding of how waves work.

With these activities, you can get your students thinking about wave energy transfer in a fun and interactive way!

Suzy Anderson
Scroll to Top