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Waves and Tsunami Project

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Science Scope Volume 30, Number 7, ISSN 0887-2376


Demonstrating wave processes quantitatively in the classroom using standard classroom tools (such as Slinkys and wave tanks) can be difficult. For example, waves often travel too fast for students to actually measure amplitude or wavelength. Also, when teaching propagating waves, reflections from the ends set up standing waves, which can confuse students. Additionally, the waves can attenuate quickly, causing the amplitude to change along the string. In response to these difficulties the authors set-up a website to display animations of waves traveling on different types of strings (a collaboration between a marine seismologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and middle school teachers). The Plymouth Wave Lab is a website that allows students to run animations of waves on strings. The benefits of using the website quickly become obvious: The wave lab is able to show ideal waves on a string in mpeg file format; students can start and stop the movie as they wish while they think about what is going on. Snapshots from the movies are available as handouts in the "For Teachers" section, so students can easily measure the wave properties. This article describes the classroom unit that the authors built around the website where students rotated through five different stations. The activities at each station were used to help students understand transverse and longitudinal waves, frequency, period, amplitude, wavelength, crest, trough, rarefaction, and compression. The Plymouth Wave Lab website was used both to complement the hands-on classroom activities and as a station. In addition, the team decided to use tsunamis in the curriculum, believing they would appeal to students and stimulate their interest, months before the Sumatra tsunami hit. (Contains 1 figure and 2 online resources.)


Frashure, K.M., Chen, R.F., Stephen, R.A., Bolmer, T., Lavin, M., Strohschneider, D., Maichle, R., Micozzi, N. & Cramer, C. (2007). Waves and Tsunami Project. Science Scope, 30(7), 16-21. Retrieved June 26, 2022 from .

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