The ComPADRE Collections

Slinky and Waves

This physical model presented by Jeffrey S. Barker, Associate Professor of Geophysics, Pennsylvania State University. Starting Point page organized by R.M. MacKay.

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see

This page first made public: Jan 17, 2006

This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.


Use a Slinky in interactive lecture demonstration to show:
  • P and S waves.
  • Wave reflection.
  • Standing waves.

Learning Goals

P-waves with a slinky
Learn about and visualize:
  • Discuss P and S waves
  • Wave reflection from higher and lower density media;
  • Standing waves.

Context for Use

Use in an introductory geoscience course where wave properties are important. Examples of such courses include Geology, Oceanography, or Atmospheric Sciences.

Description and Teaching Materials

These links contain good description of physical model and tips for using them effectively in class.

Teaching Notes and Tips

See links in teaching materials above.

The slinky wave also allows one to discuss and visualize such basic wave properties as:

  • Wave speed;
  • Wave length;
  • Amplitude;
  • Period and frequency.


Standard content questions can be developed to assess student understanding of the demonstrated ideas.

References and Resources