Wave Machine: Building a Model

Make a tool with materials from home to show how waves move.

Grades 6-8 50 min Resource by:

Where do you see waves? They are everywhere, from oceans to sound to earthquakes. In this activity, students will work with a partner (perhaps a sibling or parent/guardian) to make a wave demonstration model out of everyday objects. Measurement, attention to detail, and resilience will all be developed in this engaging activity.

Learning Objectives

  • Build a wave demonstration model.
  • Practice measurement and demonstrate precision in fine-tuning their model.
  • Practice effective small-group work.

What You’ll Need


  • Ribbon
  • Gumdrops, or other soft candy
  • Pen or pencil
  • Wooden skewers
  • Hot melt tool and glue


Note: A complete kit of materials is available for purchase from Carolina Biological Supply Company.



  • Teamwork
  • Sustained attention
  • Perseverance
  • Problem-solving

Your Challenge

Understanding how our planet works is important to everyone. Shake-up your student’s interest in Earth science with this lesson all about waves. Design a wave machine to learn more about how energy travels.

  • What did you find most challenging about this activity?
  • How did you use failed attempts to guide your next iteration?
  • Can you do anything to your wave machine to make the waves travel faster? Can you do anything to make the waves travel slower?

For Students

  • The gumdrops repeat their back and forth motion over and over, making waves. Are there other things you can find in nature that move like that? Could those regular, repeating phenomena be thought of as “waves”?
  • This wave machine is good at modeling transverse waves (the material moves up and down while the wave goes down the ribbon). How could you model longitudinal waves (the material moves back and forth in the same direction as the wave)?

For Teachers

  • How can students’ self-reflection (or metacognition) be made even more effective?
    • For example, if students report that they became frustrated with getting the wave machine to work, can they propose ways to get past frustration in the future?
  • Consider using interactive self-reflection tools, such as emoji meters or learning logs, with your students.
  • Connect transverse and longitudinal waves to the P and S waves of earthquakes.


Online wave simulations are available from PhET Interactive Simulations at the University of Colorado Boulder.