The Waves application provides a platform for participants to collectively construct a traveling wave simulation. A primary goal of this tool is to help students make sense of the relationship between the sinusoidal oscillations, in time, of each point along a wave, and the sinusoidal oscillation across the entire collection of points, in space. To this end we animate a wave as a series of independently oscillating points; each individual point along the wave can be selected, and its oscillation represented as a point rotating around a unit circle in time (Figure 1). This is intended to provide a visual representation of the concept of phase or phase angle, which is commonly used in formal, mathematical descriptions of oscillatory motion. Because control over the oscillators’ motions is distributed across the students, successfully building a wave requires the students to coordinate with one another to set the motions of their individual oscillators. In sequences of tasks of building waves with different wavelengths and direction of travel, students investigate the relations between the motions of individual oscillators (and phases, as represented on the unit circle), the relative motions of neighboring oscillators, and the collective wave motion.
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