Category Archives: wave watching

My #WaveWatching featured in GEO Saison!

Remember I made this little wave watching foldy thingy a while back? The one you see in the lower right corner of the picture above? How cool is it that it ended up in the GEO Saison magazine?

You can download the German version here (and check out some guidance on wave watching in German while you are at it! Or pick the English version, whichever you prefer). And obviously pick up the magazine at your friendly neighbourhood newspaper place, or order it online!


A week’s worth of wave pics from my Instagram @fascinocean_kiel. Enjoy!

Looking at water is the best relaxation I know. Windy “offshore” just a few meters away, but even the little sheltering that the leaves provide and almost all waves are gone. So calming!

If you weren’t looking at this picture through a #wavewatching lens, you might think the water was completely flat. But if you look closely at the line where the reflection of the trees ends and the reflection of the sky begins, you can see a crisscross pattern of two wave fields meeting each other at an angle


Hardly any wind, lazy geese, no #wavewatching. But still pretty

Tadpoles! So cute when they come up to breathe but don’t even have legs yet

Foggy morning. See the waves propagating from an (invisible) bird somewhere in the far left? They are visible in some part of the reflection of the boundary between trees and the sky, but they haven’t reached the right half yet

Geese refusing to make waves again…

Happy #WorldOceanDay today!
Your favourite drink can tell you what your #OceanResearch should be on. Build the fortune teller (link here) and find out!

This is what my weekend looked like. Simultanously admiring the garden pond in the background, the oceanography going on in my coffee, and making the “fortune teller” for today’s #WorldOceanDay that tells you what your research should be on based on your favorite drink
Sorry for not including everybody’s favourite drinks — it only had four sides!

How do we know that all the waves here are made by animals rather than the wind? Because even though there are waves, the surface is smooth and there are no rough patches with small ripples visible, even though it’s wide open so if there was any wind at all, it wouldn’t be completely sheltered

The ultimate guide to #WaveWatching, gooseling edition

I’ve been fascinated by gooselings recently, mainly because they are super cute. But I can tell you about what makes wave watching special when the waves are made by geese — it is an extra challenging type of wave watching! (Check out this post for a more general — and likely much more useful — guide to wave watching)

I dug through my phone (all these pictures are from this year, but they aren’t posted chronologically as you’ll see from the size of the gooselings) and found quite a collection. This is for you, Yasmin and Maike!

Let’s start out with a couple of pics that work well for wave watching purposes, but that already show hints of the challenges discussed below.

Here all three gooselings and the goose that is still closer to the shore are swimming fast and are making beautiful wakes; those feathery, V-shaped waves that are caused by them swimming faster than the speed at which waves can spread. The goose swimming in the front is swimming slower than that critical speed: See how there is a wave the goose is pushing in front of itself, but how it doesn’t break into these feathery structures? And the background wave field, those large curved waves, were likely caused when one of the large geese jumped into the water, or at least something close to the lower left corner of the picture falling at about the time it would have taken the front goose to swim  to where it is now at a slow (but typical) speed.

And here, the geese are doing what I’m always hoping I’ll snap a good picture of: Swimming exactly in a row. This should be energetically really good, because the goose swimming in front already creates the wake and lowers the resistance for all the other geese swimming in its wake. You see that both families are doing it in this pic, but then the duck still takes the price for the prettiest wake.

Here is another example of the front goose doing the hard work and the gooselings following in its wake. For some reason, geese never have such nice distinct wakes as ducks! Maybe it’s their bow shape in addition to their erratic swimming behaviour?

This picture gives you a glimpse of the problems we are about to discuss below. See the resting gooselings on the tree trunk in the right? Cute, but not helpful for wave watching. And the ones that are swiming, although making comparatively pretty waves, are changing speed and direction so much that the wave field looks quite messy. You can see they all started out fom the left side of the partly submerged tree trunk (the one the other family is sitting on on the right)

Here again: They CAN make petty waves if they choose to, but they are often moving quite erratically. Speeding up, slowing down, changing direction… But the right family is making pretty waves!

So why is it so difficult to get good pictures of geese-made waves? Continue reading

#WaveWatching as “transformative experience”? (Based on articles by Pugh et al. 2019, 2011, 2010)

I was reading an article on “active learning” by Lombardi et al. (2021), when the sentence “In undergraduate geoscience, Pugh et al. (2019) found that students who made observations of the world and recognized how they might be explained by concepts from their classes were more likely to stay in their major than those who do not report this experience” jumped at me. Something about observing the world and connecting it to ideas from class was so intriguing, that I had to go down that rabbit hole and see where this statement was coming from, and if it might help me as a theoretical framework for thinking about #WaveWatching (which I’ve been thinking about a lot since the recent teaching conversation).

Going into that Pugh et al. (2019) article, I learned about a concept called “transformative experience”, which I followed back to Pugh (2011): A transformative experience happens when students see the world with new eyes, because they start connecting concepts from class with their real everyday lives. There is quote at the beginning of that article which reminds me very much of what people say about wave watching (except that in the quote the person talks about clouds): that once they’ve started seeing pattern because they understood that what they look at isn’t chaotic but can be explained, they cannot go back to just looking at the beauty of it without questioning why it came to be that way. They now feel the urge to make sense of the pattern they see, everytime they come across anything related to the topic.

This is described as the three characteristics of transformative experiences:

  • they are done voluntarily out of intrinsic motivation (meaning that the application of class concepts is not required by the teacher or some other authority),
  • they expand peception (when the world is now seen through the subject’s lens and looks different than before), and
  • they have experiential value (meaning the person experiencing them perceives them as adding value to their lives).

And it turns out that facilitating such transformative experiences might well be what distinguishes schools with higher student retention from those with lower student retention in Pugh et al.’s 2019 study!

But how can we, as teachers, facilitate transformative experiences? Going another article further down the rabbit hole to Pugh et al. (2010), this is how!

The “Teaching for Transformative Experiences” model consists of three methods acting together:

  • framing content in a way that the “experiential value” becomes clear, meaning making an effort to explain the value that perceiving the world in such a way adds to our lives. This can be done by expressing the feelings it evokes or usefulness that it adds. For #WaveWatching, I talk about how much I enjoy the process, but also how making sense of an aspect of the world that first seemed chaotic is both satisfying and calming to me. But framing in terms of the value of the experience can also be done by metaphors, for example about the tales that rocks, trees, or coastlines could tell. Similarly, when I speak about “kitchen oceanography”, I hope that it raises curiosity about how we can learn about the ocean in a kitchen.
  • scaffolding how students look at the world by helping them change lenses step by step, i.e. “re-seeing”, for example by pointing out specific features, observing them together, talking through observations or providing opportunities to share and discuss observations (so pretty much my #WaveWatching process!).
  • modeling transformative experiences, i.e. sharing what and how we perceive our own transformative experiences, in order to show students that it’s both acceptable and desirable to see the world in a certain way, and communicate about it. I do this both in person as well as whenever I post about #WaveWatching online.

So it seems that I have been creating transformative experiences with #WaveWatching all this time without knowing it! Or at least that this framework works really well to describe the main features of #WaveWatching.

Obviously I have only just scratched the literature on transforming experiences, but I have a whole bunch of articles open on my desktop already, about case studies of facilitating transformative experiences in teaching. And I cannot wait to dig in and find out what I can learn from that research and apply it to improve #WaveWatching! :)

Lombardi, D., Shipley, T. F., & Astronomy Team, Biology Team, Chemistry Team, Engineering Team, Geography Team, Geoscience Team, and Physics Team. (2021). The curious construct of active learning. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 22(1), 8-43.

Pugh, K. J., Phillips, M. M., Sexton, J. M., Bergstrom, C. M., & Riggs, E. M. (2019). A quantitative investigation of geoscience departmental factors associated with the recruitment and retention of female students. Journal of Geoscience Education, 67(3), 266-284.

Pugh, K. J. (2011). Transformative experience: An integrative construct in the spirit of Deweyan pragmatism. Educational Psychologist, 46(2), 107-121.

Pugh, K. J., Linnenbrink-Garcia, L., Koskey, K. L., Stewart, V. C., & Manzey, C. (2010). Teaching for transformative experiences and conceptual change: A case study and evaluation of a high school biology teacher’s experience. Cognition and Instruction, 28(3), 273-316.

An iEarth teaching conversation with Kjersti Daae and Torgny Roxå on #WaveWatching

iEarth is currently establishing the new-to-me format of “teaching conversations”, where two or more people meet to discuss specific aspects of one person’s teaching in a “critical friend” setting. Obviously I volunteered to be grilled, and despite me trying to suggest other topics, too (like the active lunch break and the “nerd topic” intro in a workshop), we ended up talking about … #WaveWatching. Not that I’m complaining ;-)

After the conversation, I wrote up the main points as a one-pager, which I am sharing below. Thank you, Kjersti and Torgny, for an inspiring conversation!

I use #WaveWatching in introductory courses in oceanography and in science outreach both on social media and in in-person guided tours. #WaveWatching is the practice of looking at water and trying to make sense of why its surface came to look the way it does: What caused the waves (e.g. wind, ships, animals)? How did the coastline influence the waves (e.g. shelter it from wind in some places, or block entrance into a basin from certain directions, or cause reflection)? What processes must be involved that we cannot directly observe (e.g. interactions with a very shallow area or a current)? Kjersti Daae (pers. comm.) suggests an analogy to explain #WaveWatching: Many people enjoy a stir-fry for its taste, like we enjoy looking at water, glittering in the sun, without questioning what makes it special. But once we start focusing on noticing different ingredients and the ways they are prepared, it is a small change in perspective that changes our perception substantially, and leads to a new appreciation and deeper understanding of all future stir-fries (and possibly other dishes) we will encounter.

I teach #WaveWatching using a cognitive apprenticeship leaning (Collins et al., 1988) approach*: By drawing on photos of selected wave fields (in the field using a drawing app on a tablet), I model my own sensemaking (Odden & Russ, 2019). I coach students to engage in the process, and slowly fade myself out. Students then engage in #WaveWatching practice anywhere they find water – in the sink, a puddle in the street, a lake, the ocean. Since waves are universally accessible, this works perfectly as hyper-local “excursions” in virtual teaching: Students work “in the field” right outside their homes.

Waves are not an integral part of the general curriculum in physical oceanography. While some wave processes are relevant for specific research questions, for typical large-scale oceanography they are not. And the concepts used in #WaveWatching are not even new to students, they are just an application of high-school optics to a new context.

Nevertheless, #WaveWatching helps work towards several goals that are important to me:

  1. Using “authentic data” acts as motivation to engage with theory because the connection with the real world makes it feel more interesting and engaging (Kjelvik & Schultheis, 2019).
  2. Engaging in sensemaking and gaining experience on what can (and cannot!) be concluded from an observation are highly relevant skills and this is an opportunity for practice.
  3. Building an identity as oceanographer – seeing the world through a new lens, joining a community of practice (Wenger, 2011), but also being able to demonstrate newfound expertise and identity to friends and family outside of that new community by talking about this new lens – are otherwise rare in socially distant times.

After being exposed to #WaveWatching, people tell me that they can’t look at water in the same way they did before. They are now seeing pattern they never noticed, and they try to explain them or ask themselves what I would see. They often send me photos of their observation years after our last interaction, and ask if I agree with their interpretations. #WaveWatching might thus be a threshold concept, “a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something” and where “the change of perspective […] is unlikely to be forgotten” (Meyer & Land, 2003).


  • Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Newman, S. E. (1988). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the craft of reading, writing and mathematics. Thinking: The Journal of Philosophy for Children8(1), 2-10.
  • Kjelvik, M. K., & Schultheis, E. H. (2019). Getting messy with authentic data: Exploring the potential of using data from scientific research to support student data literacy. CBE—Life Sciences Education18(2), es2.
  • Meyer, J. H. F., and Land, R. (2003) “Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising” in Improving Student Learning: Ten Years On. C. Rust (Ed), OCSLD, Oxford.
  • Odden, T. O. B., & Russ, R. S. (2019). Defining sensemaking: Bringing clarity to a fragmented theoretical construct. Science Education103(1), 187-205.
  • Wenger, E. (2011). Communities of practice: A brief introduction.

*more on that in this post (that comes online on 21.5.2021).

A quick intro to #WaveWatching

I set up a german page with a very simple intro to wave watching and thought I’d repost the images below.

The reason for that new page is super exciting: Another article about me & wave watching will come out in print soon, and they will refer to a german version of my wave watching fortune teller, for which I wanted to provide a downloadable pdf. So since that pdf needed to be hosted somewhere and I felt that it deserved a bit more of an explanation, I might have gone slightly overboard. Anyway. There is no such thing as too much wave watching, right?

Did you like this as a super easy introduction to wave watching? What could I do to make it more clear and/or more engaging?