Unit Overview

In Mosa Mack’s Waves unit, students are led through a progression of three inquiry lessons that focus on the anatomy of light and sound waves and the differences in how they transfer energy.

Lesson Overview

Medium solveSolve: Light and Sound Mystery + Vocabulary Mind Map
Medium makeMake: Compare Light and Sound Waves
Medium engineerEngineer: Engineer a Solution for Individuals who cannot Detect Light or Sound Waves

There are two options for The Solve! Choose to have your students either solve a live video mystery on how an illusionist tricks our eyes and how candles are mysteriously blown out or an animated mystery on how a trickster at a fair is using sound and light waves to scam an audience. By the end of The Solve, students discover that light and sound waves have specific characteristics that make them transfer energy differently. (75 mins)

After going through a series of stations, students draw a visual model that compares sound waves and light waves. (160 mins)

Students develop and design a prototype that helps the hearing-impaired detect sound vibrations and the seeing-impaired detect obstacles. (150 mins)

Next Generations Science Standards

Develop a model of waves to describe patterns in terms of amplitude and wavelength and that waves can cause objects to move. [Clarification Statement: Examples of models could include diagrams, analogies, and physical models using wire to illustrate wavelength and amplitude of waves.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include interference effects, electromagnetic waves, non periodic waves, or quantitative models of amplitude and wavelength.]
Develop a model to describe that light reflecting from objects and entering the eye allows objects to be seen. [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include knowledge of specific colors reflected and seen, the cellular mechanisms of vision, or how the retina works.]
Generate and compare multiple solutions that use patterns to transfer information.* [Clarification Statement: Examples of solutions could include drums sending coded information through sound waves, using a grid of 1’s and 0’s representing black and white to send information about a picture, and using Morse code to send text.]
Use mathematical representations to describe a simple model for waves that includes how the amplitude of a wave is related to the energy in a wave. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on describing waves with both qualitative and quantitative thinking.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include electromagnetic waves and is limited to standard repeating waves.]
Develop and use a model to describe that waves are reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through various materials. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on both light and mechanical waves. Examples of models could include drawings, simulations, and written descriptions.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to qualitative applications pertaining to light and mechanical waves.]
Integrate qualitative scientific and technical information to support the claim that digitized signals are a more reliable way to encode and transmit information than analog signals. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on a basic understanding that waves can be used for communication purposes. Examples could include using fiber optic cable to transmit light pulses, radio wave pulses in wifi devices, and conversion of stored binary patterns to make sound or text on a computer screen.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include binary counting. Assessment does not include the specific mechanism of any given device.]

Science & Engineering Practices

  • Connections to Nature of Science
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
  • Developing and Using Models
  • Scientific Knowledge is Based on Empirical Evidence
  • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • Electromagnetic Radiation
  • Information Technologies and Instrumentation
  • Optimizing the Design Solution
  • Wave Properties

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Cause and Effect
  • Connections to Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science
  • Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology
  • Patterns
  • Science is a Human Endeavor
  • Structure and Function

Inquiry Scale

  • Each lesson in the unit has an Inquiry Scale that provides directions on how to implement the lesson at the level that works best for you and your students.
  • “Level 1” is the most teacher-driven, and recommended for students in 4th-5th grades. “Level 4” is the most student-driven, and recommended for students in 7th-8th grades.
  • For differentiation within the same grade or class, use different inquiry levels for different groups of students who may require additional support or an extra challenge.

Common Misconceptions

  • Learners initially think that waves move matter from the source to where the wave ends up. Emphasize that waves transport energy, not matter.
  • Students tend to believe that you can hear and see a distinct event at the same moment. Emphasize through the Solve that light waves travel faster than sound waves.


    • Amplitude
    • Light wave
    • Lightning
    • Sound Wave
    • Thunder
    • Wavelength

Content Expert Title

  • Brian Walsh, Ph.D.
    Dept. of Mechanical Engineering Center for Space Physics Boston University


  • Powerpoints for Make and Design
  • Vocabulary Cards
  • Solve Student Handout
  • Make Student Handout
  • Design Student Handout
  • Vocabulary Mind Map

New: RocketLit Leveled Reading

* To give our users the most comprehensive science resource, Mosa Mack is piloting a partnership with RocketLit, a provider of leveled science articles.

  • The Parts of a Wave

    Light is a mysterious thing, but that doesn't mean that we can't learn about it while we ride up the crests of a wave and back down through the troughs. This article also explains how to brag to your friend about how extreme a hill is with amplitude and how far you traveled by measuring the wavelength of the light wave.

  • Light, Pass It On

    Light doesn't like to stay in one place. It is transmitted by reflection, refraction, and absorption. In this way, light always keeps moving or hands its energy off to something else.

  • Why Matter Matters

    When light hits matter, it typically scatters in different directions. Some things light can pass through, some things it cannot and some things scatter light multiple times, diffusing it.

  • Types of Light

    The light we see is just a small part of the range of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is the name for all energy that travels at the speed of light.

  • Refraction

    Light doesn't always move in a straight line nor does it travel at the same speed. Light changes direction and speed depending on the medium through which it's travelling.

  • How Records Work

    In this article, students read about how records store information in analog. They'll receive an introduction to the concepts of waves, vibration, distortion, and analog.

  • The Digital Advantage

    What makes digital technology so awesome? In this article, students read an introduction to waves, noise, binary, and the function of a transistor.

  • Music is Energy You Feel With Your Ears

    In this article students read about the form of energy that we experience as sound waves. They read about how matter can be disturbed by something that vibrates and this can cause particles to oscillate back and forth. We hear these disturbances as sound!