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Can You See the Light?

Grades: 5-8
Author: Joyce Brumberger
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Module Description

As a result of the presenter-conducted module, participants will learn through design and implementation of their own experiments about the transmission of light energy. Participants will design a lesson they can implement in their own classroom.


  • Participants will learn the definition of the terms transparent, translucent, and opaque
  • Participants will learn the difference between transparent and translucent
  • Participants will be able to provide examples of materials that are translucent, transparent, and opaque
  • Participants will be able to write a procedure for an experiment
  • Participants will be able to analyze data and draw conclusions from that data
  • Participants will produce a lesson plan to guide their own students in the design and implementation of an experiment


  • Jars of soap blowing bubbles
  • Colored filters - colored paddles are available through Educational Innovations, Inc. 888-912-7474; Nasco, Inc. 800-558-9595
  • Colored cellophane wrap
  • Flashlight (optional)
  • Water
  • Baby food jars or other small containers
  • Thermometers (2/group)
  • Heat lamps

Squares of materials that are the same size. Examples are:

  • Lucite
  • Polystyrene - clear plastic food packaging boxes (#6 recycle code)
  • Plastic milk jug
  • Plastic laundry detergent bottle
  • Plastic bleach bottle
  • Clear food wrap film (for example, Saran WrapTM )
  • Wax paper
  • Overhead transparency
  • Plastic grocery bag
  • White fabric cloth
  • Black fabric cloth
  • Tissue paper
  • Disposable food containers with lids (for example, ZiplockTM)
  • Colored paper
  • Cellophane wrap
  • Wood
  • Mirror
  • Aluminum foil



If possible, plan to conduct this activity outside.

  1. Working in groups of five, ask one participant to blow bubbles while the others observe them through four different colored filters.
  2. Ask participants with the filters to record the color of the filter and what colors were visible on the bubble through the filter.
  3. Tell participants to change roles until everyone has had an opportunity to blow bubbles and look through each of the filters.
  4. In a large group, ask participants what colors were visible through each of the filters.

Assessment: Assessment is ongoing as participants record observations and ideas as well as respond orally during the Engagement phase.


Working with partners or small groups, ask participants to look at a light source with the various materials provided. Allow them to use their own vocabulary and record their responses as to how much light is transmitted through the materials. The light source could be a flashlight or looking up at ceiling lights.

Assessment: Assess participants understanding through oral explanations and written observations and drawings.


Provide formal definitions of key terms.

  • What is the term for a material that you can see through clearly? Answers may vary. The term is transparent.
  • Ask participants for examples of transparent materials that they used here as well as any additional examples. Examples used here were the Lucite and polystyrene plastic. Additional examples will vary.
  • What is the term for a material that lets light through but not clearly? Answers may vary. The term is translucent.
  • Ask participants for examples of translucent materials that they used here as well as any additional examples. An example used here was the milk jug plastic. Additional examples will vary.
  • What is the term for a material that does not let light through? Answers may vary. The term is opaque.
  • Ask participants for examples of opaque materials that they used here as well as any additional examples. Examples of opaque materials used here were the plastic from the detergent bottle, mirror, white cloth, and wood. Additional examples will vary.
  • Ask participants what happens to light energy when it interacts with opaque materials? Light can be reflected, like the mirror, it can be absorbed like the wood, or it can be both, like the white cloth.
  • Tell participants to look at the list of opaque materials discussed previously and ask them to determine if they reflect light, absorb light, or both. (Answers will vary)

Assessment: Participants' responses to key concepts and their responses to additional examples.


  1. Tell participants that as the cost of energy rises, the need for alternative sources of energy, such as solar energy, are becoming very attractive.
  2. Divide participants into groups of four. Based on the research they just conducted, challenge them to design an experiment in which they may compare TWO of the materials they just explored to determine which would be more effective in heating a container of water using solar energy.
  3. Tell participants that they will all be given equal amounts of water so that their collective data can be shared at the end of experimentation.
  4. Tell participants to formulate a testable question, hypothesis, and write a list of materials and step-by-step procedure as learned in the One Plus One Makes New Lesson. Accept all reasonable work and allow participants to conduct their experiments. Generally, materials that are transparent will allow the electromagnetic radiation to pass through them, but not necessarily back out.
  5. Ask participants to analyze their data and draw a conclusion.
  6. Ask a spokesperson from each group to report their findings to the group as a whole. Based on the data provided, ask them to organize the materials in order from best to worst with regard to their ability to heat water. (Transparent materials will likely have the best performance)
  7. Ask participants what purpose they would suggest for materials that are translucent and opaque when thinking about energy conservation. (Translucent materials are useful for allowing some light to penetrate through but would be helpful in reducing accumulated heat.)


As the price of crude oil continues to increase, the public is becoming more aware of the need to reduce its dependency on oil and turn its attention towards alternative energy sources and increased conservation. To conserve energy, more and more companies and institutions are looking for ways to "Go Green". Buildings are being structurally designed to minimize fossil fuel consumption and provide a comfortable and esthetic interior environment. As a result, materials that have been used in the past are either being enhanced or used in new ways to meet conservation goals.

It is necessary to first understand the basic properties of these materials before proper application or enhancement can be made. This is done through exploration and experimentation.

More detailed information on science inquiry can be found at:

Science Standards

NSES Standard A: Science as Inquiry: As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

  • Design and conduct a scientific investigation
  • 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

NSES Standard B: Physical Science: As a result of their activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of transfer of energy.

  • Energy is a property of many substances and is associated with heat, light, electricity, mechanical motion, sound, nuclei and the nature of a chemical. Energy is transferred in many ways.
  • Light interacts with matter by transmission (including refraction), absorption, or scattering (including reflection). To see an object, light from the object - emitted by or scattered from it - must enter the eye.
  • The sun is a major source of energy for changes on the earth's surface. The sun loses energy by emitting light. A tiny fraction of that light reaches the earth, transferring energy from the sun to the earth. The sun's energy arrives as light with a range of wavelengths, consisting of visible light, infrared, and ultraviolet radiation.

NSES Standard G: History and Nature of Science: As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of Science as a human endeavor

  • Science requires different abilities, depending on such factors as the field of study and type of inquiry. Science is very much a human endeavor, and the work of science relies on basic human qualities, such as reasoning, insight, energy, skills, and creativity, as well as on scientific habits of minds, such as intellectual honesty, tolerance of ambiguity, skepticism, and openness to new ideas.

NSES PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT STANDARD A: Professional development for teachers of science requires learning essential science content through the perspectives and methods of inquiry. Science learning experiences for teachers must:

  • Involve teachers in actively investigating phenomena that can be studied scientifically, interpreting results, and making sense of findings consistent with currently accepted scientific understanding.
  • Address issues, events, problems, or topics significant in science and of interest to participants.
  • Introduce teachers to scientific literature, media, and technological resources that expand their science knowledge and their ability to access further knowledge.
  • Build on the teacher's current science understanding, ability, and attitudes.
  • Incorporate ongoing reflection on the process and outcomes of understanding science through inquiry.
  • Encourage and support teachers in efforts to collaborate.

NSES PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT STANDARD B: Professional development for teachers of science requires integrating knowledge of science, learning, pedagogy, and students; it also requires applying that knowledge to science teaching. Learning experiences for teachers of science must:

  • Connect and integrate all pertinent aspects of science and science education.

Best Teaching Practices

  • Learning Cycle
  • Science Process Skills
  • Inquiry

Time Frame

Two 40 minute sessions.


Cut all materials to be used to a size that can also be used to cover the top of the baby food jar or other small container.


Use care not to get soap bubbles in the eyes.


Assessments are ongoing throughout the learning cycle.

Teachers convert a teacher directed science activity into an inquiry-based lesson plan for their students.

Explanation of Science

Light is a type of electromagnetic radiation which travels in the form of waves. Most natural light comes from the sun and travels though the vacuum of space transferring potential energy to kinetic energy when the wave interacts with a medium that causes the material to move. Waves behave in predictable ways and have measurable properties.

When light travels through a medium it can be reflected, refracted, absorbed, and scattered. Different materials transmit light to different degrees and are classified based on their transmission levels. Materials that allow light to transmit through them are considered transparent. These materials however may be transparent to some wavelengths of light and not others. Colored filters are examples of such materials. Translucent materials allow some light to transfer through them, but also scatter light in different directions. When a material is opaque, it does not allow light to transfer through either by way of reflection and /or absorption.

When light passes through a transparent material and hits another surface, the wavelength is altered. As a result, much of the energy cannot transmit back through the transparent material and is converted to heat. This is why a car interior heats up on a hot day when the car is sitting in the mall parking lot.




Explore a variety of food wrappers and research why some products have transparent wrap while others have translucent, opaque, or composite wraps.

Explore components in the atmosphere that affect light's transmission through the atmosphere

Explore new technologies in building materials that use natural light to heat and cool the inside environment

Lesson Implementation Template

Download Lesson Implementation Template: Word Document or PDF File


Try to insure that all participants have participated and expressed their ideas either verbally or through written comments. When working in pairs or groups try to make the groups as heterogeneous as possible being sensitive to specific needs of individuals.


None available for this module