Light #17

(grades 6-11)
Soft-bound, 88 page book, 36 reproducible task cards, full teaching notes.

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Scrutinize the particle and wave nature of light: how it reflects, refracts, focuses; how it adds and subtracts color and splits into rainbows. Optical lab equipment usually costs big bucks. Get better results using little more than 2 ordinary hand lenses! Add an extra pair more to model working microscopes and telescopes.

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Light Starter Kit

book not included, please order separately

WE SUPPLY in quantities that serve one student or two students working in a lab pair: aluminum foil, waxed paper, mirrors, index cards, 5 heavy-duty D-cell batteries, baby food jar, clear tape, masking tape, straws, canning ring, test tubes, pipette, rubber bands, straight pins, paper clips, thread, microscope slides, hand lenses, flashlight, clear vial


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  • book content
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  • teaching tips
  • objectives
  • standards

Table of Contents for #17 Light:

Preparation and Support

A TOPS Model for Effective Science Teaching • Getting Ready • Gathering Materials • Sequencing Task Cards • Gaining a Whole Perspective• Long Range Objectives • Review/Test Questions

Activities and Lesson Notes

  1. 1. Light as Particles
  2. 2. Pinhole Viewer (1)
  3. 3. Pinhole Viewer (2)
  4. 4. Shadow Disk
  5. 5. The Shadow is Fuzzy!
  6. 6. Solar Eclipse
  7. 7. Reflection
  8. 8. Line Up (1)
  9. 9. Line Up (2)
  10. 10. Up and Down?
  11. 11. Funny Faces
  12. 12. Virtual Reality
  13. 13. Light as Waves
  14. 14. Refraction (1)
  15. 15. Refraction (2)
  16. 16. Refraction (3)
  17. 17. Where's the Penny?
  18. 18. Water Lens
  19. 19. Ray Play
  20. 20. The Color Spectrum
  21. 21. Addition and Subtraction
  22. 22. Focal Length (1)
  23. 23. Focal Length (2)

  25. 24. Ray Rules
  26. 25. Virtual Images
  27. 26. Real Images
  28. 27. Flip-Flop
  29. 28. Lenses in Combination (1)
  30. 29. Lenses in Combination (2)
  31. 30. Where Is the Focus? (1)
  32. 31. Where Is the Focus? (2)
  33. 32. Three Magnified Views
  34. 33. Reverse Images
  35. 34. Symmetry
  36. 35. Curved Mirrors (1)
  37. 36. Curved Mirrors (2)

Supplementary Cut Outs

protractor • metric rule • object arrows


Complete Master List for #17 Light:

Key: (1st/2nd/3rd) denote needed quantities: (1st) enough for 1 student doing all activities; (2nd) enough for 30 students working in self-paced pairs; (3rd) enough for 30 students working in pairs on the same lesson. Starred* items may be purchased below.

  1. 1/1/1: packet powdered milk (or fresh milk)
  2. 1/1/1: source of water
  3. * 1/10/10: baby food jars
  4. 1/10/10: dark-colored cloth towels
  5. 1/10/10: flashlights with two fresh size-D batteries -- ask students to bring these from home
  6. * 1/1/1: roll aluminum foil
  7. * 1/6/10: rolls masking tape
  8. * 2/20/20: rectangular pocket mirrors without frames
  9. 2/20/20: empty tin cans -- medium 15 or 16 ounce size
  10. 1/1/1: roll waxed paper
  11. * 4/40/40: medium-sized rubber bands
  12. * 3/30/30: straight pins
  13. 1/10/10: scissors
  14. 1/10/10: empty cereal boxes
  15. 3/30/30: size-D batteries, dead or alive
  16. 5/50/50: 4x6 inch index cards
  17. * 5/50/50: paper clips
  18. 1/2/5: hole punch
  19. * 1/1/1: spool thread
  20. 2/20/20: pennies
  21. 10/100/100: sheets notebook paper
  22. * 5/50/50: straight plastic drinking straws
  23. 2/6/20: bathroom hand mirrors with plane surfaces
  24. * 4/40/40: microscope slides
  25. 1/6/10: rectangular cake pans -- about 9x12 inches
  26. * 1/6/10: eyedroppers
  27. 1/4/10: empty tuna cans or equivalent size
  28. * 2/8/20: small test tubes
  29. * 4/40/40: hand lenses with handles
  30. 1/4/10: transparent plastic pill vials (optional)
  31. 1/4/10: prisms (optional)
  32. * 1/4/10: white plates (or paper plates)
  33. 1/1/1: sheets each of blue and yellow cellophane (or transparent report covers in blue and yellow)
  34. 2/20/20: textbooks of equal size
  35. 1/1/1: roll plastic wrap
  36. 1/4/10: ball point pens
  37. * 1/5/10: rolls clear tape
  38. * 1/6/10: canning rings
  39. 1/4/10: spoons
  40. 1/10/10: facial tissues (soft toilet paper)

Convenient Shopping:

Aluminum Foil

regular strength, 20 square feet x 12 inches rolls

Buy aluminum foil here as a convenience item, or for less in many grocery stores.

Baby Food Jars - assorted

without lids

Each set includes 4 small, 4 medium and 4 large glass jars.

Canning Rings with Lids

fit regular-mouth canning jars

These may be available only seasonally in some stores. Avoid wide-mouth size. Needed for #16 Pressure and #17 Light. Only rings (not lids) are used in #40 Earth, Moon & Sun, and #43 Focus Pocus.

Tape - clear

3/4 inch x 1000 inch roll

Your standard desk tape with matte write-on surface.


glass, with rubber bulbs and screw-on plastic bottle top

These have many lab uses. You may purchase them separately here, or with 1/2 ounce dropper bottles (as item #1121).

Separately, these also double as Cartesian Divers in #200 Diving into Pressure & Buoyancy. If you already have droppers, test them in advance to see if they make good 'divers': Remove plastic bottle top, if any. Dropper must float when empty, then sink with a one-squeeze-intake of water. Test that the seal between bulb and barrel is water tight: The empty dropper should float for a day or so in a glass of water, without taking on visible water.

Magnifier - hand lens

3X clear plastic hand lens

You'll find many uses for this basic tool of scientific inquiry. Very nice quality for the price. Supports #17 Light, #23 Rocks and Minerals, and #42 Focus Pocus. (One 3X hand lens is also included in each #100 Triple Magnifier Kit.)

Tape - masking

3/4 inch x 55 yd roll

A handy science supply used in most TOPS modules.

Microscope Slides

glass, standard size

Used in #17 Light for diffraction experiments. For viewing microscope specimens, consider cutting slides, almost for free, from clear plastic bakery cartons. Smooth any sharp edges with sandpaper or an emery board.


4x6 inch clear, reflecting plastic

A handy scientific tool. It is made of shatter-proof plastic with peel-off protective film. The plane surface may be flexed for funny faces and interesting experiments. Needed in #17 Light, #42 Focus Pocus.

Paper Clips

size #1, steel, box of 100

Paper clips have 1001 uses in TOPS experiments, and science in general. Feel free to use paper clips you already have, but be aware that different brands come in different sizes and weights. In experiments where uniformity is important, don't mix brands.

Paper Plates

9-inch diameter, generic white

A classic ripple edge-design, with wide application in TOPS experiments. Buy these here for convenience, or for less at your local grocery store.

Rubber Bands - assorted

10 grams each of thin, medium and thick

You get 30 grams of soft, strong, durable rubber bands: thin #16 (about 50), medium #32 (about 20), and heavy-duty #64 (about 10). These sizes are specifically selected to work in most TOPS experiments.

Straight Pins

steel, one and 1/16 inch long

Used in many TOPS experiments. Sometimes required for their magnetic properties. Don't purchase aluminum straight pins by mistake.

Straws - straight

plastic, thin

Any length straw, between 0.20 and 0.25 inches in diameter is suitable. Grocery stores generally carry straws with flexible "elbows." You can use those if you cut off the bendable section before using.

Test Tube - small reusable

9 mL capacity with 13 mm OD and 4 inch (100 mm) length

A tough Pyrex test tube made with rim and thicker glass. Has a white spot for labeling.

Test Tube - medium disposable

19 mL capacity, 16 mm OD, 5 inch (125 mm) length

A lighter weight rimless Pyrex test tube made with thinner glass.


light duty, 25 yd spool

Just plain old thread. Used in many TOPS titles, especially in Pendulums #34.

Teaching Tips for #17 Light:

We encourage improvisation - it's one of the main goals of our hands-on approach! You and your students might invent a simpler, sturdier or more accurate system; might ask a better question; might design a better extension. Hooray for ingenuity! When this occurs, we'd love to hear about it and share it with other educators. Please send ideas and photos to

Lesson by Lesson Objectives for #17 Light:

  1. Lesson 1: To observe the path of light beams in a colloidal suspension. To understand light beams in terms of the particle nature of light.
  2. Lesson 2: To view an image through a pinhole. To draw a ray diagram that explains why pinhole images are inverted.
  3. Lesson 3: To observe how a pinhole image changes position and size. To explain these variations using ray diagrams.
  4. Lesson 4: To understand why shadows change size when objects are held close to a light source, but remain constant for distant sources.
  5. Lesson 5: To relate the clarity of a shadow to its distance from the light source and screen.
  6. Lesson 6: To model a solar eclipse. To relate the completeness of an eclipse to the kind of shadow it casts on the earth.
  7. Lesson 7: To discover that the angles of incidence and reflection are equal for light reflected by a plane mirror.
  8. Lesson 8: To discover that an object and its mirror image appear equidistant from the reflecting surface of a mirror.
  9. Lesson 9: To predict the position of images behind a mirror by drawing rays and measuring angles. To confirm the accuracy of these drawings by checking their reflections in a plane mirror.
  10. Lesson 10: To diagram where virtual images are formed behind plane mirrors, using the principle that the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection.
  11. Lesson 11: To create an illusion with mirrors. To explain the illusion using principles of light reflection.
  12. Lesson 12: To use the transmitting and reflecting properties of glass to create visual illusions.
  13. Lesson 13: To examine how water waves in a pan model the behavior of light waves.
  14. Lesson 14: To bend water waves in a ripple tank by slowing them against a shallow bottom. To relate this behavior to the bending of light beams.
  15. Lesson 15: To diagram how an incident light ray is refracted through glass. To account for its direction of bending.
  16. Lesson 16: To predict how the direction and amount of bending of refracted light varies with a changing angle of incidence. To verify these predictions by experiment.
  17. Lesson 17: To understand how refracted light changes the apparent position of an object in water when viewed from above its surface.
  18. Lesson 18: To create concave, planar and convex water surfaces in a test tube. To understand why these shapes produce images of different sizes.
  19. Lesson 19: To interrupt projected light rays with a variety of objects. To interpret the various reflections and refractions that result.
  20. Lesson 20: To identify colors in the visible spectrum. To recognize that these colors are the refracted components of white light.
  21. Lesson 21: To mix colors by subtracting them from white light and by adding them to white background. To distinguish between color addition and subtraction.
  22. Lesson 22: To observe how a hand lens refracts incoming parallel rays to a focal point. To measure its focal length.
  23. Lesson 23: To observe how light from a distant source focuses through a lens at the focal point. To observe a cone of focusing light rays in a jar of cloudy water.
  24. Lesson 24: To classify incident light rays into 5 possible groups and examine how they are characteristically refracted by a hand lens.
  25. Lesson 25: To predict the position of the virtual image of a pin located within one focal length of the lens. To confirm this position by experiment.
  26. Lesson 26: To predict the position of the real image of a pin located outside one focal length of the lens. To confirm this position by experiment.
  27. Lesson 27: To observe how images through a lens change with an object's distance from the lens. To understand these changes in terms of ray diagrams.
  28. Lesson 28: To construct working models of a telescope and microscope from two hand lenses.
  29. Lesson 29: To construct and uses more working models of telescopes and microscopes.
  30. Lesson 30: To observe how increasing lens curvature shortens the focal length. To use this principle to explain how your eye focuses images on its retina.
  31. Lesson 31: To simulate near-sighted vision with a hand lens, and refocus the blurred image with a pinhole. To understand why pinholes keep light in focus at all distances.
  32. Lesson 32: To explore three different ways to magnify the image of a pin. To compare and contrast each method.
  33. Lesson 33: To reproduce a reflected mirror image on paper, using the principle that glass both reflects and transmits light. To study the reversed nature of the reflected virtual image.
  34. Lesson 34: To study symmetry in letters of the alphabet using a plane mirror.
  35. Lesson 35: To study how images are projected by concave and convex mirrors.
  36. Lesson 36: To confirm that concave and convex mirrors produce images as predicted in the previous activity.

National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996) for #17 Light:

TEACHING Standards

These 20 Activity Sheets promote excellence in science teaching by these NSES criteria:
Teachers of science...
A: ...plan an inquiry-based science program. (p. 30)
B: and facilitate learning. (p. 32)
C: ...engage in ongoing assessment of their teaching and of student learning. (p. 37)
D: and manage learning environments that provide students with the time, space, and resources needed for learning science. (p. 43)

CONTENT Standards

These 20 Activity Sheets contain fundamental content as defined by these NSES guidelines (p. 109).
• Represent a central event or phenomenon in the natural world.
• Represent a central scientific idea and organizing principle.
• Have rich explanatory power.
• Guide fruitful investigations.
• Apply to situations and contexts common to everyday experiences.
• Can be linked to meaningful learning experiences.
• Are developmentally appropriate for students at the grade level specified.

Unifying Concepts and Processes

NSES Framework: Systems, order, and organization • Evidence, models and explanation • Constancy, change, and measurement • Evolution and equilibrium • Form and function
Core Concepts/Processes: Light behaves both as a particle and as a wave. Both models are required to explain a wide variety of light phenomena. • Law of reflection (angle i = angle r)

Science as Inquiry (content standard A)

NSES Framework: Identify questions that can be answered through scientific investigations. • Design and conduct a scientific investigation. • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data. • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence. • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations. • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions. • Communicate scientific procedures and explanations.
Core Inquiries: Examine how animals survive in specific environments. Can you design a critter that hides in plain sight; that survives a class vote?

Physical Science (content standard B)

NSES Framework: Light, heat, electricity, and magnetism • Structure and properties of matter • Interactions of energy and matter
Core Content: Light as particles • Light as waves • Shadows • Solar eclipses • Reflection • Refraction • Color addition and subtraction • Real images • Virtual images • Inverted images • Concave, planar and convex mirrors • Focal length • Telescopes • Microscopes • Symmetry

Earth and Space Science (content standard D)

NSES Framework: Changes in earth and sky Core Content: Shadows • Solar eclipse

Science and Technology (content standard E)

NSES Framework: k458912 Abilities of technological design • Understanding about science and technology Core Content: Invent working models of a microscope and a telescope using hand lenses in combination.