Ocean Motion.....The Science Behind the Wave

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SWBAT describe the motion of an ocean wave.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students will discover the science behind ocean waves.

Setting the Stage

5 minutes

The lesson will provide background learning that will become important and valuable for lessons that will be taught after it.  While it does not directly relate to any standards for second grade, it will lay groundwork and create background knowledge for fourth grade standard 4-PS4-1. 

My main purpose in teaching this lesson is the background knowledge it will create for the lesson on Beach Erosion that will follow this lesson. I want the children to have some understanding of the movement of waves before we begin the lesson on beach erosion.  The waves motion has a direct impact on the sand that is caught up in the wave as each wave continues to beat against the shore.  Because objects that are caught in a wave move in a circular motion, the children will be able to see how the waves pick up the sand and carry it away from the shore causing the erosion. 

Materials needed:

small empty water bottles (I had one per student. The lesson can easily be done in teams if enough bottles are not available).


blue food coloring

small corks

vegetable oil

glue gun (this is helpful to seal the bottles after the investigation). 

ziploc bags (I used these to put the bottles in to after we were done).



5 minutes

I ask the children to face the screen, but to close their eyes.  I turn the volume up as high as possible on the speakers without distorting the sound and play the video clip.  I want the children to hear the sounds of the waves.  Just enough to give them an idea of what we will be talking and learning about.  After the children have heard the waves one time, I ask them to open their eyes and watch the video clip again. (The video clip is already embedded into my power point. I find it is easier to have it embedded.  It saves me time in fiddling back and forth from video clips and power point. I have included the links here for teacher use). 

After watching and listening to the clip a second time, I move to slide three and ask the children what a wave is....

Slide four then asks what they notice or might already know about the waves at the beach....I want to get their adrenaline going on this....the sound of the waves is so powerful.  It is loud and physically gets your blood pumping.  I want this to be the feeling the children get when we begin to move through this lesson.  

I show the children one more video clip, but before I do, I explain....I want you to watch this video clip and see if you can see anything within the wave that happens over and over? 

The children watch the wave motion.  They look hard and eventually someone mentions that the waves come in and go out. That there is a pattern within this.  This is what I am hoping to hear. 


10 minutes

I quickly move to slide six which explains that we are going to create a simulation of a wave. Slide seven shows the materials we will need to complete the investigation. 

Slides eight to eleven show step by step what the children will do to complete each step to create their simulated wave bottle.  

This is not a new idea in teaching. The wave bottle has been used for so many years. It is a great example of wave action.  The one difference in this bottle is the cork inside.  It's sole purpose is to show that it does not move while the wave action is happening.  This concept is important and vital to the lesson that will follow the next day with oil spills

The children begin to work together in building and creating their wave bottles.  After all the students have their bottles put together, I quickly add a dab of heated up hot glue to the cap of each bottle to seal them.  

When all the children have a completed wave bottle, it is imperative that they be allowed to explore them and play without any direction.  If they do not have the opportunity to do this, they will not focus on the lesson later.  I allow them about five minutes to free explore. 

Explain and Explore Some More

15 minutes

After the free exploration of the bottle, I direct the children back to the screen. I explain that their waves need to sit on their desks without being touched for a bit of time.  Because we have already played, they are great about abiding by this direction.

I ask them to look at slide twelve which explains the different types of waves. I purposely save the ocean wave for last. I want the children to know that waves can come in many forms.  This is especially important for the ELL students who are still grasping the language. This can be confusing to them to think of all the different connotations of the word 'wave' we have in the English language. 

We move through slide thirteen to fifteen discussing each idea and concept.  I do not spend more then a few minutes discussing each of these ideas.  In the science of ocean waves, I know this is very important, but I also I want to remember that my students are only seven and eight.  They do not need the complete science that would be delivered to a much higher level aged student. I want to give them enough background knowledge that they will be able to understand the concept.

We move to slide sixteen and seventeen, which show both of the video clips below.  I want to demonstrate for the children that waves can come in different forms and that they each have different results.  Calm waves are gentle and do not offer much change to the scenery.  Forceful waves do not have this same reaction. 


Next, I show the children slide eighteen.  I explain to the children that waves on the ocean are incredibly complex.  I ask them to pick up their bottles.  I explain that I want them to see if they can move the cork that is bobbing in the water from one side of the bottle to the other side of the bottle. 

Many of the children are certain they can accomplish this task, but their teammates are quick to point out that the cork just simply isn't moving.  I move to slide nineteen and explain why this happens.  


10 minutes

I move on to slide nineteen and read to the children the explanation in the simplest terms I can.  I don't let this idea sit too long and I quickly show them another video clip (slide twenty) that demonstrates this concept better than I could explain it.  

This video clip is amazing! I instantly see many eyes light up and heads begin to bob up and down!!! They get it.  


Slide twenty allows me to show it one more way that makes the concept even more clear. Suddenly, I have them all understanding what is happening in the wave motion.  

Because I want to give them a bit more information, I move to slide 22 and explain the movement of the transverse waves and then slide 23 shows which explains longitudinal waves.  

I tell the children that this is not something they really need to master, but that it might great for them to understand that there are words that scientists use to explain that waves and the crazy motions that they make.  I pull it back to the beginning video clips that we watched at the start of the lesson when we tried to see if there were any patterns within the waves on the beach.  

Slide 24 is put in for a couple of reasons.  When we have finished the lesson, I move to the last slide and first just let the children look at the painting.  It is beautiful in itself and I really want the children to see the beauty of it.  Next, I explain that the ocean and it's waves have really captivated not only science since the beginning of time, but artists as well.  So I included this painting as one example to show the children.  But I also want them to look at the movement and depth that is in the painting, it is so powerful in the way it is able to demonstrate the enormity of the waves even without the real thing.  


10 minutes

Lastly, I pass the page to the student for them to document their learning from the investigation. I allow them to work independently and document all their work.

*The next morning, after the thrill of the lesson has died down, as an entry task, I ask the children to get out their journals and sketch for me their wave bottle. I ask them to include any information they believe is important for them to remember.  They glue these into their journals as reminders of the lesson.