Middle Schoolers are Really Riding the Wave in 2020

Diane Hichborn

This fall Sparhawk middle schoolers have been ‘riding the wave’ figuratively and literally. Our students face worldly unknowns daily, and yet, I have seen them rise to each occasion, taking precautions with every move. Maintaining social distance, wiping down tables before they leave class, and remembering not to touch everything in their path are just a few of the habitual chores added to this generation of preteens’ already bustling minds. Concurrently, I am teaching students about waves in the fall semester science curriculum, and the parallel between our lessons and the world around us was not lost on me.

This year was especially challenging to prepare for, as I needed to have a mobile ready version of each lab prepared, in advance, for each student. Advanced preparation and clear instruction are key for a smooth transition for students from school to home learning. I was determined that they would experience the same high level of hands-on instruction, no matter where they were learning. 

A wave is generally summarized as a disturbance that carries energy from one place to another (again, what a pertinent lesson for now). In my first lesson, the students used their knowledge of new scientific terms to set up lab variations to explore the major properties and behavior of waves, including their wavelength, frequency, amplitude, speed, refraction, reflection and diffraction.

For our second lab, we used tuning forks to observe how sound travels as a longitudinal wave through a medium like air or water. The source of a sound wave is always a vibrating object, whether it's a human speaking, or a musical instrument.

Our students discovered in this lab, that in solids, sound can exist as either a longitudinal or a transverse wave. However, sound waves can only travel longitudinally in mediums which are fluid (e.g., gases and liquids). 

A fan favorite among students, is the standing wave demonstration. In this lesson, students created "wave machines" to observe how a disturbance of energy moves from one end of the model to the other. Students played with the amplitude of the wave simply by making a greater disturbance in the wave machines. 

We had fun observing how each science class constructed their models and then exploring the results when the models from each class were joined together. 

As a teacher, it is rewarding to have middle schoolers come to class, willing to learn, and ready to 'go with the flow' at any given notice. I want to recognize them for being 100% present everyday, whether that was face to face, or a hybrid of learning remotely and in class physically. Our students have shown their resilience to 'ride the wave' and have now attained the knowledge behind the science as well.