Teaching About Ocean Waves | Water Activities for Kids

How can you teach ocean waves to your third, fourth, or fifth grade students? First, view some videos. Second, study some diagrams. Third, conduct a STEM activity. In it, kids explore which of four models best simulates a transverse wave.

Ms. Sneed and Mr. Grow Teach About Ocean Waves

Our favorite fourth-grade teacher sat in the teacher’s lounge with her student teacher. “Let’s take a look at the next science standard, NGSS 4-PS4-1,” she said.

Develop a model of waves to describe patterns in terms of amplitude and wavelength and that waves cause objects to move.

“Hmm,” Mr. Grow said. ” I really wanted to do a STEM activity next week. Do you think we could tie it in?”

“Well, the clarification statement says that the model could include diagrams or physical models,” Ms. Sneed responded.

She pulled out her laptop and clicked away. “Here you go. In this set of activities, kids learn about waves. Then they try four different models and decide which best simulates a transverse wave.”

Mr. Grow’s eyes lit up. “Perfect!”

Videos About Ocean Waves

“Let’s take a look at the videos,” Ms. Sneed said. “As kids watch they record information on this worksheet.”

The two teachers watched a series of three-minute videos by Dr. Rob Brander from Science of the Surf:

“He definitely explains it better than I ever could,” Mr. Grow remarked. “I love using videos. We can shoot these URLs out to the kids. That way, they can watch again, if needed.”

Ms. Sneed fired up one more video, which was created by Alex Gendler for TED Ed, How Tsunamis Work.

As it finished, Ms. Sneed turned to her student teacher. “These are great,” she said. “In addition to science, kids will be practicing their listening skills. To complete the activity, they must pull the main ideas out of each video.”

On this worksheet, kids record information about three types of ocean waves: wind-driven, tsunamis, and tides.
Ocean Wave Diagrams

Next they looked at the corresponding diagrams. “I’ll use these to teach,” said Mr. Grow.

Ms. Sneed nodded. “After that, let’s share them with the kids. Then they can refer to them during the STEM activity.”

Three diagrams teach kids about ocean waves. In the first diagram, they see that energy from the wind is transferred to the water to create transverse waves. The second shows parts of a wave. The third explains the motion of water molecules.
The STEM Activity

Mr. Grow studied the directions for the STEM activity. “Once again, kids watch a video,” he said. It reviews the engineering design process.”

“You can do it one of two ways.” Ms. Sneed pointed to the next page of the directions. Either kids can research wave models, or you can offer these ideas.” She flipped to the next page, which displayed four options: a rope, a wave in a bottle, straws or skewers connected with masking tape, and a paint tray.

Kids try four models for transverse waves: a rope, a wave in a plastic bottle, straws on a piece of masking tape, and a paint tray.

Are you feeling “pinspired”? Feel free to pin images from this post.

“I like the second option for this water science experiment,” Mr. Grow said. “I know it skips one step in the process, but this way I’ll be able to supply each science group with the materials they need.”

Interdisciplinary Ocean Waves Activity

“Once kids finish their engineering design activity,” Ms. Sneed said, “you may want to tie in some ELA. I notice that the standards document suggests some opinion writing.”

“Hey, that’s a great idea! Kids could write argumentative paragraphs about which solution works best.”

As Ms. Sneed looked at her student teacher’s beaming face, she recognized a bit of herself. Yes, teaching physical science could be a fun and fulfilling endeavor.

Enjoy Teaching

Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.

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