Transforming a Physics Lessons about Wave Properties

Are you transforming your physics course to NGSS? I took an old lesson of mine about properties of waves and transformed in to a phenomenon-driven storyline.

The original activity was an inquiry-based lesson on wave properties. You can find it on the PhET website. I wanted to update this lesson to align with the NGSS vision.

The first thing I needed to do was identify an anchoring phenomenon for my topic. My focal NGSS performance expectation is HS-PS4-1. I wanted to use the Waves on A String simulation again, so I needed a phenomenon that would fit. I found this video on YouTube.

The video provides a perfect opportunity for students to notice patterns between the waves on guitar strings and the sounds that they hear. I decided to use this as my anchoring phenomenon. I asked students:

  • What patterns do you notice in the video? 
    • What do the patterns on the strings look like as they are being played? 
    • Do you notice any relationships between the patterns of what you hear and what you see? 
  • What do you think causes those patterns?
  • Create a model to record your ideas using this Google Jamboard.

I frame the students initial ideas about the phenomenon in terms of the crosscutting concepts. In high school, students are expected to use empirical evidence to identify patterns.

This opening activity creates curiosity about the phenomenon and prompts students to ask questions about the relationships among wavelength, frequency, amplitude, and the medium (the guitar string).

The original sequence is a good fit for students to figure out how and why different guitar strings produce different sounds as they also address the content of HS-PS4-1. Here is a link to the finished lesson.

Let me know what you think about this lesson!

Waves on a String by Lori Andersen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

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