Light...explore with your class
Ideas for how to explore light with your class and explain it in a way they will understand.
Four children jumping in the air to create shadows on a running track
The second part of this topic guide leads on from the tricky scientific concepts that we explained in part one of this topic guide (you can revise them here). Now you're clear on what the children need to know and have the background science under your belt, you're ready to apply these ideas for teaching light to your class!
To teach a tricky topic, such as light, we recommend you keep it as simple, hands-on and relevant to your pupil’s everyday experiences as possible. Here are some bright ideas!
1. Here comes the Sun
Learning about light begins with younger children thinking about the Sun as a natural source of light and learning how to safely observe and describe how it changes across a day and through the seasons. Older children will develop this further when learning about the Earth’s position within the solar system and why we have day and night and the seasons (see our Earth and space topic guide). Why not try going outside at different times on a sunny day and seeing how the Sun’s position has changed? This is also a great way to begin the conversation about sun safety. When doing any science related to the Sun, please refer to CLEAPSS or SSERC for advice on health and safety, and ensure children never look directly at the Sun.
Exploring different sources of light and whether they are natural or man-made can be done through observation and discussion. Odd One Out activities, such as Shine a light and Sources of light, are a great way to get the conversation going with your class.
It can be valuable for children to identify and safely handle everyday light sources, as well as identifying sources found in less familiar contexts. For older children, exploring artificial light sources also provides an opportunity to link your learning about light with their understanding of electricity.
2. Light and living things
The effect of daily and seasonal changes in light on how living organisms behave can be explored with the Odd One Out activity Spooky animals and the Big Question Who is overwintering in our school and why?.
Extra context can be provided with these What’s Going On videos: Seasons and Falling into place, which show the effect of the seasons on plants. With older children, you could take this discussion further with the Big Question Can you see the sunrise in space? and What if there were two suns?
You can also explore this connection in our topic guide on plants.
3. Investigate and reflect
Children need to understand that we can see things because light travels from a source to our eyes or from a source to an object and is then reflected into our eyes. They should explore this by observing how light reflects differently from a variety of surfaces (including mirrors) and comparing the effect of each material’s properties.
We recommend keeping it really practical when investigating this. You can focus on developing scientific skills of careful observation, comparison and identifying the properties of the materials that are the most/least reflective.
Shiny things is a useful Odd One Out activity to help explain how smoother surfaces reflect more light and are therefore brighter. What if we didn’t have mirrors? can help get your children thinking about the plus, minus and interesting of having to use less reflective surfaces in their everyday tasks. See round the bend is an excellent Problem Solver activity for children to try and apply their knowledge of light in a hands-on, collaborative and creative way.
4. Shadow play
The hands-on nature of this topic continues when learning about shadows. Children should experiment with creating shadows using different light sources, objects of different shapes and sizes and changing the distance between the light source and object. It is also valuable to include objects that are opaque, translucent and transparent in this investigation so that children can compare the differences in any shadows created.
Scientific skills to focus on here include:
recognising and controlling variables
using test results to make predictions to set up further comparative tests
Building on their earlier observations of the changing position of the sun, they can now develop this into an investigation by measuring the changing length and position of the shadows created by the sun’s movement. This is an excellent opportunity to focus on developing your children’s scientific skills of taking accurate measurements and recording data. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you can even repeat this experiment at different times of the year to explore the seasonal changes in the position and strength of the sun’s rays.
Shadow shapes, Find your focus and Lightproof your secret den are good examples of how children can have fun exploring the relationship between light, shadows and the properties of materials. Light and time is another good video for helping children to understand how the position of the sun in the sky changes throughout a day, as well as for exploring the way shadows caused by the sun change.
5. Go a bit deeper
If you want to dig deeper into the topic of light and extend your children’s learning, you can explore what happens to light in water with Back to front and oil with Now you see me. If you want to explore how visible light is made up of seven colours, What if we couldn’t see colours? provides a useful conversation starter. Exploding lights is a fun way of challenging children to consider light that is created from an irreversible chemical reaction.
6. Use a concept cartoon
A concept cartoon is a great way to engage your class and stimulate discussion of their ideas. You can use it at any time, but it is particularly useful for finding out what children know at the beginning of a topic or assessing their understanding near the end.
(Taken from Science Concept Cartoons® Set 1 Revised Edition (2014) and Science Concept Cartoons® Set 2 (2015). © Millgate House Education Ltd www.millgatehouse.co.uk)
This concept cartoon presents a range of viewpoints about the effect of the size of a light source, including common misconceptions and the scientifically correct response. Get your pupils to consider what they think about the different opinions. It will help them to justify their own ideas and clarify their scientific thinking.
You can even design your own concept cartoons based on the needs of your children or to assess a particular piece of understanding. Or why not let your children have a go at creating their own?
We'd love to know how these ideas worked for you. You can tell us on Twitter, join our Facebook Staffroom Group or send us an email!
Image credit: Four children jumping in the air to create shadows on a running track by manseok_kim via Pixabay