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Investigating Special Properties of Light

Many unique properties of light can be investigated in the classroom by using learning centers. Experiences at the centers can provide data for students to record, analyze, and use to learn more about the world around them. Ahead of time, you should encourage students through small and large group discussions to form questions that can be answered using materials at the centers. Also, familiarize yourself with the directions for each center, make sure you have all of the required materials, decide how you want to set up your room, and make a plan so students can move around the room easily. Don't forget to establish a rotation plan.

The length of time needed to complete these activities varies depending on the number of students in the classroom and the available time for study. However, each center should take approximately the same amount of time so that students are not ready to change centers before those ahead of them are finished.

Learning Center 1: Diffraction Action

Required Materials

  • 2 strings of tiny Christmas lights (1 colored and 1 white)
  • Candle
  • Lamp with a 60-watt bulb
  • Flashlight
  • Other types of lighting (sunlight, fluorescent light, or a computer screen)
  • Diffraction grating
  • Science notebooks

What will the students do?

In this learning center, students will use diffraction gratings to view the colors or spectrum produced by visible light. They will hold the diffraction grating in front of different light sources and will record the colors that they see in their science notebooks with the help of the color chart that you provide or that they copy. Students may notice the intensity of the colors and the width of the color band produced.

Learning Center 2: Did You See The Light?

Required Materials

  • Wax paper, brown paper, and construction paper
  • Styrofoam plate, paper plate, and paper towels
  • Plastic milk container
  • Cardboard
  • Aluminum foil
  • Plastic wrap
  • Lamp with a 60-watt bulb
  • Science notebooks

What will the students do?

Many students understand that different objects allow more or less light to pass through them. This activity will allow them to expand on these notions by investigating common items to determine whether they are transparent, translucent, or opaque. They will learn that a transparent material, such as glass, allows light to pass through it and a clear image to form. Translucent materials, such as wax paper, allow some light to pass through, but most of the light is scattered. As a result, they will find, images cannot be seen clearly through them. Also, the students will observe that light cannot pass through opaque objects, such as cardboard, and, therefore, no image can be seen through them. To do this they should hold the various materials in front of a light bulb and record the name of the material under an appropriate column in their science notebooks.

Learning Center 3: CD Rainbows

Required Materials

  • Used CDs
  • Flashlight
  • Lamp with a 60-watt bulb
  • Sunlight
  • Candle
  • Science notebooks

What will the students do?

The lines or grooves on a compact disk are equally spaced over the flat surface of the disk. As a result, when light strikes the disk it is separated into its component colors. In this learning center, students will use a compact disk as a diffraction grating to look at different types of lights, including candlelight, sunlight, light from a 60-watt lamp, and a flashlight. The colors they view may vary depending on the light source, so they should keep track of their results in their science notebooks. Afterwards, they should describe any similarities or differences between the compact disk originated color spectrum and that which they observed with the diffraction grating.

Learning Center 4: Spinning Colors

Required Materials

  • Sharpened pencils
  • Red, blue, yellow, and green permanent markers
  • Compass
  • 3 x 5 cards
  • Scissors
  • Science notebooks

What will the students do?

Students will investigate the additive properties of color using spinning disks. They will find that when two or more colors are quickly spun together, our eyes may perceive a different color altogether. This is because the brain has the ability to retain or remember individual colors and adds them together, creating a new color.

At this center, students will use a compass to draw two circles 8 centimeters in diameter on the blank side of each of the 3 x 5 cards. They will then divide each circle into 8 equal wedges. On the first circle, they should color every other section red and blue. On the second circle, they should color every other section yellow and green. Students will then push a pencil point through the center of each disk so that the colored sides are facing the pencils' erasers. For better balance they can keep the disk down near the point end of the pencil. Finally, they will hold the pencil upright and spin it on the floor like a top, observing and recording the color that the disk appears to be.

Learning Center 5: Bending Light

Required Materials

  • Styrofoam cup
  • Penny
  • Container of water
  • Scissors
  • Transparent tape
  • Science notebooks

What will the students do?

Many students have seen mirages on the highway, in which a puddle of water may appear in the road on a dry day. As they approached the "puddle" it disappeared, but soon another imaginary puddle may have been seen in the distance. This disappearing puddle is called a mirage and is an example of the refraction of light. Mirages are tricks of the atmosphere, optical illusions caused when a layer of air next to the ground becomes superheated from heat stored in the soil or in dark pavement. The boundary between this hot, and therefore less dense air, and the cooler denser air above it bends the light rays that strike it, acting like a giant mirror or lens held parallel to the ground.

Mirages are explored in this learning center, in which students work with partners and place a penny at the bottom of a foam cup that has been cut in half. One partner will slowly slide the cup away from the other just until they can no longer see the penny. Without disturbing the penny, one partner will slowly pour water into the cup until the penny can be seen again. Remind the students that they should not be moving or changing position during this activity. They will record what happened and why in their science notebooks.

Learning Center 6: The Relationship Between Light and Heat

Required Materials

  • 1 sheet of black and 1 sheet of white construction paper
  • 3 containers of water
  • 3 thermometers
  • A sunny day
  • Tape
  • Science notebooks

What will the students do?

At this center, students will investigate the connection between light and heat energy. Students will also be investigating how and why light colors are cooler than dark colors. To do this, students will be making two different colored holders for their thermometers, one with white construction paper, and the other with black. They will place the two covered thermometers outside in full sun for 2 to 3 minutes and then measure the temperature displayed on both and record the information in their science notebooks. Students will also place three containers of water outside for one hour; one container in full sun, one in part sun/part shade, and a third container in full shade. When an hour has passed, students will measure the temperature in each of the three containers. Be sure they place the thermometer in each container for at least 1 minute without moving the cups. Students should then record the temperature in their science notebooks.



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