What's In a Wave? Using Modeling and Computational Thinking to Enhance Students' Understanding of Waves

Teaching about wave structure and function is a critical element of any physical science curriculum and supported by Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) PS4: Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer. Often, instruction focused on these concepts involves identifying and describing several aspects of wave structure, including amplitude, frequency, and wavelength. To support students’ learning of these ideas, teachers often rely on developing graphic models of a wave with students identifying different aspects of wave structure. To enhance this experience, some teachers employ readily available simulations from trusted websites, such as PhET or Netlogo. Digital resources are valuable tools that teachers can use to support students’ science understanding through manipulating elements of digitally constructed scientific models. These approaches to teaching promote students’ engagement in the practice of designing (drawing a wave) and using scientific models (working with a simulation). To expand upon these resources, we developed a series of instructional activities that deepen students’ conceptual understanding of waves by engaging in computational thinking while developing and using scientific and mathematical models. We use an accessible programming platform, called Pencil Code, which displays the simulation and its code side by side, offering learners more opportunity (in comparison to other platforms) to understand their interaction.

Enderle, P. J., King, N. S., & Margulieux, L. E. (2021). What's in a wave? Using modeling and computational thinking to enhance students' understanding of waves. The Science Teacher, 88(March/April), 54-58.