Electromagnetic Spectrum: How Does it Affect Our Lives?

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SWBAT: Develop understanding of important vocabulary and organization of the electromagnetic spectrum

Big Idea

The EM Spectrum has infiltrated many aspects of our everyday lives, whether we realize it or not. The goal of this web quest is for students to develop an understanding of the common ways we are affected, both positive and negative.


In the past, I would give students a worksheet and have them fill in answers, based on the research they gathered from various websites.  My goal in this series of lessons is to promote inquiry by having students research the question:

"How does the electromagnetic spectrum affect our lives?"

Students are given a list of various, pre-approved websites to visit to develop a clear understanding of the extent that we rely on and are affected by EM energy.

Leading up to this lesson, students have experienced infrared videos from the Concord Consortium and read about heat transfer. They are also familiar with energy transformations and understand that, just like matter, energy cannot be created or destroyed.  

The purpose of this lesson is to help students understand how energy relates to their own lives. In particular, I want students to understand that infrared cameras can help us visualize thermal energy, but I also want them to eventually develop arguments based on evidence in subsequent lessons. As they view infrared pictures, they have to explain why, for example, they think the metal cage in the camel picture is warmer than the camel.  

This ties in their prior knowledge of insulators and conductors. The metal is a good conductor so it appears warmer than the camel, even though it is warm blooded. Since the camel has fur, it insulates the camel and prevents the thermal energy from transferring quickly.

This lesson supports student growth in the following standards:

MS-PS4-2 and MS-PS3-3 


5 minutes

I want students to assess their knowledge of how electromagnetic energy affects their lives, so I ask them to write down their present thoughts on the topic. Afterwards, students will reflect on their original responses using "This is what I thought, this is what I think now" strategy.  

I ask students: How does electromagnetic energy affect my live?

Students then respond and share their ideas with their groups.  I circulate and listen to their responses and thoughts, giving me a sense of what they know going into this lesson.

Webquest and Using P.E.O.E. to Elicit Student Ideas About EM Spectrum and Heat Transfer

45 minutes

Students access the three websites listed on this handout to help them gather information about electromagnetic energy. They then use the information gathered to answer questions on a worksheet. I generally never give worksheet for students to fill in, as it doesn't inspire student-centered inquiry. However, this worksheet is intentionally created to drive higher order thinking, so I feel that it is justified in this case.  

I post these websites to Google Classroom and students access each of the three links for the three parts of the web quest worksheet.

Here is a video of a student using the NASA infrared website to gather evidence that will drive future inquiry.

Upon finishing the activity, I ask students to go back to the infrared image website (link 1) to perform a P.E.O.E. for a picture that hasn't been viewed yet. I want students to base their predictions and explanations off of their prior knowledge and experiences with the other images. In particular, I want students to connect their predictions to their knowledge of insulators/conductors and molecular structure.  

They will not be able to model insulators and conductors today, but they have concrete example to refer back to later, especially as they begin to question why some materials conduct heat differently.

This video gives an overview of P.E.O.E.:

Here is an example of a student response to the camel image.

Assessing Student Learning and Fortifying Writing Skills

As a way to assess learning and support the development of my students' writing skills, I have them write a reflection essay that ties into the DO NOW question from earlier. At this point, students have an abundance of examples of how the EM Spectrum affects their lives.  

Here is an example of a student's response to the question: "How does the EM Spectrum affect my life?"