Syllabus: Modeling Instruction in Mechanical Waves & Sound

June 11-29, 2018 at Arizona State University


ASU catalog description: PHS 594/PHY 494: Modeling Instruction in Mechanical Waves (3 credits). Teaching mechanical waves and sound in high school physics using model-based methods and science practices. Prerequisite: PHS 530/PHY480.

Credit is allowed for only PHY 494 or PHS 594.


Peer leader: Michael Crofton

Course hours: 8:00 – 3:30 M-Th, 8:00-12:00 F




A. Objectives.

            The main objective of the 1st summer Modeling Workshop (in mechanics) was to acquaint teachers with all aspects of the modeling method and develop some skill in implementing it. To that end, teachers were provided with a fairly complete set of written curriculum materials to support instruction organized into coherent modeling cycles (as described in Wells et al., A Modeling Method for High School Physics, 1995). The physical materials and experiments in the curriculum are simple and quite standard, already available in any reasonably equipped physics classroom.

            In this course, teachers will review core modeling principles, discuss ways to successfully implement a modeling approach, then work through coherent model-centered materials in mechanical waves and sound, to develop a deep understanding of content and how to teach it effectively. In this workshop there is less emphasis on why we believe that modeling is superior to conventional instruction, since we assume that teachers coming back to take a follow-up course have come to accept this as true. To these ends, they read, discuss, and reflect on related physics education research articles. The focus is on first-year physics courses that use algebra and trigonometry.

B. Rationale and course plan: To develop familiarity with materials necessary to fully implement them in the classroom, we find that teachers must work through the activities, discussions and worksheets, alternating between student and teacher modes, much as they did in the 1st Modeling Workshop in Mechanics. Each of the four units in the course manual includes an extensive Teacher Notes section. Throughout the course, teachers are asked to reflect on their practice and how they might apply the techniques they have learned in the course to their own classes.

In the past it has been common to have a class with many experienced modeling teachers mixed with many teachers that just finished their first year of using the Modeling Method. On the first day we have generally had the experienced teachers meet together in groups, and the “newbies” meet in other groups. The experienced teachers come up with advice for the newbies and the newbies come up with items they wish to discuss. Some of the topics that past debriefing sessions have covered are whiteboarding (grading), pace/coverage, successes/what to avoid, grading labs, and teaching with non-modelers. Instead of spending two hours on the first day of class with these discussions we will have a board where anyone who wishes can put up a topic or question and we will discuss it when convenient.

Description of the Modeling Workshop in Mechanical Waves & Sound

      Unit 1: The Oscillating Particle. In this unit we develop the model of an oscillating particle, its causal force model, the restoring force, along with its kinematical model, simple harmonic motion. We will develop graphical and mathematical representations by experimentally studying the motion of masses oscillating vertically on springs. Energy considerations are also studied.

      Unit 2: Mechanical Waves in 1-Dimension. We connect a string of particles together with springs to help develop the model of a wave being a disturbance propagated through the connected particles as they oscillate. We move on to study the behavior of transverse and longitudinal pulses as they move and reflect. After establishing pulse behavior we use standing waves on a string to experimentally develop the wave velocity equation relating frequency and wavelength. We finish by experimentally developing the relationship of the velocity of waves on a string and the linear density of the string along with the relationship of the velocity and the tension in the string.

      Unit 3: Sound. The model of sound being a pressure wave caused by longitudinally oscillating particles is developed. We study the concept of resonance and factors necessary for it in tubes, on strings and on rods. We use MBL microphones to study beats, harmonics, pitch and loudness. We finish the unit with the Doppler effect.

      Unit 4: Mechanical Waves in 2-Dimensions. We study reflection, refraction, diffraction and two-slit interference. This unit makes use of ripple tanks to develop two dimensional behaviors. To be honest, the oscillating particle model is not taught as a factor in these behaviors. Due to the difficulty of studying these behaviors fully using coupled particles, we will use light.

      In each unit we will use Java applets, practicums, MBL probes, many demonstrations and deployment activities.



A. Attendance: You are expected to attend all days of this course. If you miss 2 classes (12 contact hours), your maximum grade will be a B; if 3, you can earn no higher than a C. Please be on time and ready to go! Report any expected absences to the course instructor as soon as possible. ASU credit-seeking students who miss course time are to complete and write a reflection for all activities missed, design an activity modified or developed for pilot use in the classroom this coming year, and present results to the course instructor and peers when appropriate.


B. Assignments and grading policy:

Students will contract for a letter grade on the second class day. Contracting for a letter grade is not a guaranteed grade. Work must be completed at ASU standards and meet all class requirements.         All participants, whether seeking ASU credit or not, are expected to do activities and homework, as described below for a “C” grade. (Non-credit participants should email the instructor, specifying which days they intend to participate, at the start of the course.)

To earn a letter grade of “C”, you are expected to do the following:

Š      Keep a course notebook in which all labs, activities and demonstrations are placed. Teachers find this notebook to be a valuable resource as they use the curricular materials in their own classes. (50%)

§       You will perform labs in “student mode”. All labs should include the prelab, the purpose, your data, all graphs (with curve fits if not linear), equations of linearized graphs, manipulations of units, statement of the relationship and the general equation for the lab. For each lab add the necessary comments that will help you guide your students through successful lab experiences.

§    You should also take notes on demonstrations and the concept they are designed to illustrate.

§    Any activities such as practicums that we do should have the question to be solved along with the data and calculations needed to solve it.

§    Basically, the expectation is that notes on everything we do will be in your notebook.

Š      Formally write up one of the four paradigm labs at 80% level or higher. (90% minimum for an A) (10%)

Š      Work out all designated problems and questions on the worksheets and insert them into your 3-ring binder. (10%)

Š      Participate actively and thoughtfully in whiteboarding sessions, the discussion of readings, activities, and the worksheets. (10%)

Š      From time to time, you will be given a reading on a current topic or articles from physics education research. For each of these, write a one half to one-page typed reaction (not a synopsis) in which you offer your views about ideas discussed in the reading assignment. (5%)

Š      At the end of each unit we would like you to read the teacher’s notes. Then turn in a one page reflection on the storyline and the activities in the unit. The materials have recently undergone extensive revisions and we are looking for comments that will help make them better. (15%)

            To be considered for a “B”, teachers in PHS 594 do all of the above plus two more assignments. One is a two-page (minimum) typed reflection paper describing one of the following; how Modeling Instruction in mechanical waves and sound differs from your current practice and what changes you plan to incorporate, or the issues with which you will have to deal in order to implement materials and strategies from the course in your classroom. In addition a second paradigm lab must be written formally with a grade of 80% or better. (Due on the 3rd-to-last class day.)

            To be considered for an “A”, you will be required to complete two additional assignments. One choice is a set of assorted problems with more rigor than the typical modeling type problems. Another is to write up one or two of the paradigm labs you have not written up. They must have a grade of 90% or better. (Due on the next-to-last class day.)


C. Grading scale:      97-100 A+ 93-96.9 A 90-92.9 A-

                                    87-89.9 B+ 83-86.9 B 80-82.9 B-

                                    77-79.9 C+ 73-76.9 C 70-72.9 C-


D. Arizona Board of Regents and ASU policies:

Each student is expected to spend a minimum of 45 hours per semester hour of credit.

Pass-fail is not an option for graduate courses.

“B” grade means average; 3.0 GPA is minimum requirement for MNS & other graduate degrees.

Incomplete: only for special circumstances. Must finish course within 1 year, or it becomes “E”.

An instructor may drop a student for non-attendance during the first two class days (in summer).

An instructor may withdraw a student with a mark of "W" or a grade of "E" only in cases of disruptive classroom behavior."


E. Academic dishonesty policy: Please refer to Students who suspect a policy violation are encouraged to discuss their concerns with their course instructor. ASU has a grade of "XE" which can become part of a transcript and permanent academic records and explicitly means that the student failed a course because of academic dishonesty.       


F. Disability policy: Qualified students with disabilities who require disability accommodations in this course are encouraged to make their requests to the instructor on the first class day or before. Note: Prior to receiving disability accommodations, verification of eligibility from the Disability Resource Center (DRC) is required. Disability information is confidential.




No textbook. 3-ring binder (preferably 1.5 inches thick); 6 tab inserts. You will also need a 9” x 12” quad-ruled lab notebook. This size will allow you to easily tape or paste in data you collect and graphs you produce from the labs you perform during the workshop, as well as your reflections on activities and readings assigned. (Free for AZ teachers. Buy at Staples for ~$15).




Michael Wittmann, “The Object Coordination Class Applied to Wavepulses: Analyzing Student Reasoning in Wave Physics”, International Journal of Science Education 24:1, 97-118 (2002)

Michael C. Wittmann, Richard N. Steinberg, Edward F. Redish, “Understanding and Affecting Student Reasoning About Sound Waves”



Fernand Brunschwig, “Teaching Physics: Inquiry and the Ray Model of Light

Bruce Sherwood, “Answer to Question #21”, American Journal of Physics 64, 840-842 (1996)