Tag Archives: Ambitious Science Teaching

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 https://drloriandersen.com/main/waves-on-a-string/.

Planning for engagement with big science ideas

This is week two of a book study of Ambitious Science Teaching (Windshitl, Thompson, & Braaten, 2018) with a nationwide group of science educators. The study was organized by @sbottasullivan. We are working through one chapter of the book each week and I will blog about each chapter. This post is about Chapter 2, Planning for engagement with big science ideas. You can follow our book study using #ASTBookChat on Twitter.

This chapter describes a unit planning process. This unit planning process is very different than the methods in which most science teachers have been trained. The rationale for this process is compelling. A anchor-driven unit has advantages over traditional topic-driven units.

Manuel Keusch

Selecting a good anchor takes time and thought, but is essential to creating a high-quality unit. The anchor must be complex enough that multiple science ideas are needed to explain it. The anchor must also be relevant to studentsʻ  lived experiences. In this way, the choice of anchor contributes to equity and rigor, which were two of the major concepts in my Chapter 1 post.

Eneida Nieves

As we design a unit, we should identify the big ideas that have explanatory power. Which ideas shed light on the inner workings of the most phenomena? The observation that often the most important big idea in a unit is not even explicitly called out in a typical unit was striking. It is important for us to equip students with the ability to use ideas with great explanatory power that can be used in multiple contexts.


Modeling and explanation of the anchor event are key activities in a high-quality unit. Students engage in iterative cycles of evidence gathering and sense-making as they develop their explanations. Models make their thinking visible. Our teaching goals must include explanations that include the “why” of anchor events. Teachers develop the gapless model that is the explanation of the anchor activity before they design the unit.

Anchor events are the thread that holds together the activities in the unit. The activities help students answer questions about the anchor event and are arranged in a logical order. This chapter describes a process for deciding how to order unit activities.

I am looking forward to the weekly discussion from the #ASTBookChat group on Twitter and synchronously via Zoom each week.

For more about #ASTBookChat, see my previous posts: