MS-PS4-1 MS-ESS1-2 NGSS Distance Learning 5e Waves & Astronomy PhET Simulation


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When I teach Astronomy students always ask, “How do scientists know what stuff is made of in space?” After this activity, they will know the answer!


This NGSS aligned 5e has 5 different engaging, hands-on and rigorous lessons that integrates astronomy and waves! After this activity, students will have a much better understanding of waves and how scientist use waves to learn about the cosmos!

First students access their background knowledge and try to answer the question, “How do scientists learn about stars and galaxies even though humans have never been there?” This will be used for metacognition later on in the activity.

Students then watch 2 different short YouTube Clips for the “Engage” section. These two clips are great for classroom discussion and grab the student’s attention! 

For “Explore”, students fill containers with water and make waves. They generate waves of different sizes and shapes using a block of wood. Students observe this and attempt to relate energy to the wave’s behavior. Students then put a cork in the water and observe the motion of the cork. The goal here is to get students to observe and understand that the energy travels and the medium and/or objects only rise and fall or move in a circular motion. We discuss that the individual particles bump into each other, and it’s the medium that is transferring the energy.

I then have students clean up and go outside with rope. The rope should be at least 8 feet and not stiff in order to model waves effectively. Slinky’s work better but break very easily, so I use Slinkys for longitudinal waves only.

For the analysis questions, students have limited background knowledge about the temperature of stars and the shape of waves. Therefore, I use this section as a class discussion and only hold them accountable for completion and not accuracy.

In the Explain section, students look up the definitions for the characteristics of waves and then attempt to come up with their own definition of what a wave is. This part is awesome! It really makes them think, access prior knowledge and the class discussions that happen are powerful. I then have students discuss their definitions and we vote on whose definition is the most accurate and students write that down in the “Class Definition” section. So much better than lecture!!!

In the Elaborate section, students do a PhET simulation on waves. Here I provide a PowerPoint to help them navigate to the correct simulation with the correct settings. The PowerPoint is also great for classroom management as well! By doing the simulations, students begin to understand the characteristics of waves and how energy is related to them.

For the Evaluate section, students draw a model and apply the vocabulary words. This will allow you as the instructor to assess your student’s learning at a very deep level. In NGSS, a model is a simplified representation of a system that can explain and help make predictions regarding phenomena. I encourage the students to make models that are mental representations of what can’t be seen by just observations. There are student examples on the Key.

Students finish by reflecting on Background Knowledge, this is great for metacognition and it allows the students to understand how much they have learned. I use this as an opportunity for class discussion, address misconceptions they may still have and a segue to the next activity.

Take a look at these activities I use to scaffold this resource:

ESS1.A MS-ESS1-2 The Universe & Its Stars Astronomy Activity Scale Space Systems

ESS1.A & B PS4.A & B ESS2.A NGSS Integrated Scale of Universe Card Sort & Video

NGSS MS-ESS1-2 MS-ESS1-2 Evidence for Big Bang Theory Online CER Activity

Approximate timeline:

Day 1:

1hour 50 minute Block

Background Knowledge: 5 minutes

Engage Looking to Space: 20 minutes

Explore Waves and Energy: 60 minutes

Start Elaborate: 20 minutes

Day 2:

1hour 50 minute Block

Finish Elaborate: 20 minutes

Evaluate: 30 minutes

Reflection and Discussion: 30 minutes

NGSS Performance Expectations:

Use mathematical representations to describe a simple model for waves that includes how the amplitude of a wave is related to the energy in a wave. (MS-PS4-1)

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas:

A simple wave has a repeating pattern with a specific wavelength, frequency, and amplitude. (MS-PS4-1)

A wave model of light is useful for explaining brightness, color, and the frequency-dependent bending of light at a surface between media.   (MS-PS4-2)

A simple wave has a repeating pattern with a specific wavelength, frequency, and amplitude. (MS-PS4-1)

A wave model of light is useful for explaining brightness, color, and the frequency-dependent bending of light at a surface between media. (MS-PS4-2)

Earth and its solar system are part of the Milky Way galaxy, which is one of many galaxies in the universe. (MS-ESS1-2)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

Developing and Using Models Modeling in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to developing, using, and revising models to describe, test, and predict more abstract phenomena and design systems.

Develop and use a model to describe phenomena. (MS-ESS1-1), (MS-ESS1-2)

Analyze and interpret data to determine similarities and differences in findings. (MS-ESS1-3)

Use mathematical representations to describe and/or support scientific conclusions and design solutions. (MS-PS4-1)

Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information.

NGSS Cross Cutting Concepts:

Patterns can be used to identify cause-and-effect relationships. (MS-ESS1-1)

Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions. (MS-ESS1-2)

Energy and Matter


-Plastic bins, preferably clear to make water waves in.

-Wooden blocks or something to generate the waves.

-Wine cork or something small and buoyant.

-8ft+ rope or Slinkys

Computers: 1:1 or in pairs for the PhET Simulations

This resource comes with the following:

-Student Handout


-Detailed Teacher Notes

-Editable PowerPoint for student instructions and classroom management

This resource has the following concepts:










Identifying Characteristics of Stars with Waves

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