Learning about the reflection and refraction of light energy is like learning the secret to a magician’s tricks. How can sunlight strike one object and make it look red, while hitting a different object and making it appear purple? To elementary-aged students, it all just seems like a big magic trick. Science teachers take this magic and make it meaningful. By the end of the unit, students should be able to distinguish between reflection, where light travels in a straight line bouncing off objects, and refraction, where light bends as a result of a change in medium. Using the 5E model and high-quality resources, teaching about light can be one of the highlights of your year.
Engagement Activity for Light Energy
As a starting point for engagement, I always read Philippa Leathers’ The Black Rabbit. In it, a rabbit thinks a big scary black rabbit is following him; it turns out the black rabbit is actually just his shadow. As you read this book with your students, discuss what they understand about shadow creation and what they still need to learn. Here are some questions I keep on hand during and after reading this book.
- Why did the black rabbit always follow the white rabbit?
- What happened to the black rabbit when the white rabbit went into the woods?
- What type of weather was there on this day?
- What size was the black rabbit compared to the white rabbit? Why?
- What was the black rabbit made out of? What about the white rabbit?
These questions are great for partner talk, and getting insight into your learners’ misconceptions and understandings about light.
Reflection and Refraction Hands-on Explore Activity
After gaining their attention, the next few learning sessions should contain opportunities for your students to explore how and when light refracts and reflects. Before teaching the vocabulary and concepts, let the students explore. I make each table group a bin of materials, and give them about ten minutes to see what happens to light while using them. While exploring, students write down observations and share with their teammates. Once done exploring, students can begin to label their observations by learning the meanings of refraction, and reflection. The materials I give each table group are:
- A clear glass of water
- Unsharpened pencil
- Magnifying glass
- Various colors of paper
- Objects in the shapes of spheres and cubes
Practice Resources for Reflection and Refraction
Using peer discussion helps to build a deeper understanding of how light behaves when it interacts with different matter. These reflection and refraction discussion cards help bring students’ attention to when light travels in a straight line and then bounces off objects, versus when it bends in refraction. During review, make sure to keep some activities group or partner oriented, while also allowing for accountability and individual processing time for other activities. The puzzle piece activity in this light activity bundle is a wonderful partner activity that gets students talking about these new terms. The bundle also includes various tiered note-taking templates for students to use and is perfect for interactive notebooks.
The rest of the bundle includes print-and-go templates for notes and an accompanying PowerPoint (can’t get much easier than that). I like to have my students complete this activity independently as a wrap up to our time examining light. Students will complete the notes and then read the included passages and complete the comprehension questions independently. Like everything linked here, however, these resources can all be used how you see fit. You know your students and what works best for them. As a bonus, assessments are included with the reading passages, making teacher life smooth like butter!
Go get these ready-to-go light science resources now!
Extend the Learning for Reflection and Refraction
Any seasoned teacher knows some students will pick up concepts quicker than others. What do you have on hand for the dreaded, “I’m done!” call from across the room. I have two books that I always keep around the classroom while we explore light. These books are perfect for kids to pick up and peruse when they have a few minutes. The first one is A Ray of Light by Walter Wick, and the second is Light: Shadows, Mirrors, and Rainbows by Natalie Myra Rosinsky. What I love most about these books is that they take the sometimes complicated concepts of light, and how it acts, and make them relatable. I always find my students looking around the room, watching light in action as they read through these beautiful pages. They learn to observe the world around them and make sense of how it works; what a beautiful sight.
Whatever way you choose to teach the concepts of light movement to your students, keep it fun, keep it active, and most of all, keep it real. Light is all around you; use it!