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Use this set of lessons to explore how electromagnetic waves make modern communication technology possible.
This journal article is an informative resource for Science teachers to enhance their teaching of how energy and waves are used in communication technologies. Tretter offers explanations of specific interactive activities and lessons he has designed, in accordance with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The specific standard that is addressed in these activities is “Waves and their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer (MS-PS4).” Tretter’s detailed explanations of these sequential activities include clear instruction for teaching these concepts, examples and figures to clarify the nature of the processes involved, and ideas for most effective instruction and assessment of students within these lessons. Throughout the article, Tretter makes clear connections to the scientific processes that are being modeled explored by the given activities. This allows readers to fully understand the intention and design of each activity as well as its scientific application. For example, while Tretter is explaining the basic model that he then builds upon through these lessons, a model in which the movement of a spring represents an electromagnetic wave, he clearly states the role and responsibilities of each student and what each student represents. In this example, there is a student on each end of a spring, holding it in place, and there is a blind-folded student located at the middle of the spring, sensing the movement of the spring. On page 80, he explains that “the student generating the wave signal is the “transmitter”—the component in an electronic system that sends a radio or TV wave out over the air” and that “the blindfolded student who senses the wave when it passes simulates how the electronic components of a receiver react when an incoming electromagnetic wave arrives.” This emphasizes to the reader the importance of understanding the model you are using to ensure that your students will understand its representation as well.
The activities within this article use fairly basic models to represent complex scientific phenomena. Though the activities Tretter discussed in this article are designed for middle school students, they incorporate processes that can be adapted to model the idea that waves can be used to carry information to students of any grade level. For example, the basic ideas within Tretter’s activities could be adjusted or perhaps simplified for use in an elementary classroom. With use of a spring or slinky, elementary students could physically model electromagnetic waves as Tretter has his middle schoolers do. Depending upon the students’ grade level and understanding of wave properties, the students could explore waves and their use in information transfer by participating in Activity 3, for example, in which small groups use a simple binary code and a 3x3 grid to communicate letters forms through ‘waves’ of the spring. Though these younger students may not yet understand the complexities of digital transmission that this activity represents, they will be introduced to the idea that waves can be used to communicate and transfer information through this hands-on, interactive Science activity.
I use Phet in my classroom instead of springs. After years of replacing springs and getting irritated at students with so so results, I found the simulation on Phet to be more effective and less stressful for me. Definitely need to read and use in the classroom.
Susan German (Hallsville, MO)
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