Light waves

Light is conceptually difficult for many students and misconceptions can persist unless challenged.  The resources in this list not only provide a range of activities and demonstrations, but also background information, practical tips, information on misconceptions and suggested teaching strategies.

This list links to the following statements in the 2014 National Curriculum:

• light waves travelling through a vacuum; speed of light
• the transmission of light through materials: absorption, diffuse scattering and specular reflection at a surface
• use of ray model to explain imaging in mirrors, the pinhole camera, the refraction of light and action of convex lens in focusing (qualitative); the human eye
• colours and the different frequencies of light, white light and prisms (qualitative only); differential colour effects in absorption and diffuse reflection

Visit the secondary science webpage to access all lists: www.nationalstemcentre.org.uk/secondaryscience

Links and Resources

Lighting Designer

Who wouldn't want to study physics and maths after watching this?

publication year
2010 to date

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Light 11-14

Here’s a whole set of resources from the Institute of Physics (IOP) on the topic of light specifically designed for Key Stage Three students. You can find the activities in the Teaching Approaches section.  The Physics Narrative section and the Teaching and Leaning notes will be particularly appreciated by those teaching outside of their specialism.

As you might expect from the IOP, this is a well thought out scheme which develops and challenges students' ideas as it is worked through.

publication year
2010 to date

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Dispensing Optics

This careers video makes an inspiring introduction to learning about lenses, as it looks at several students following opthalmic dispensing and contact lens courses.

publication year
2010 to date

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Light and Optics Teacher Resource and Class Activities

This resource provides a wealth of ideas for investigating light and colour.  Ignore the fact that the levels are linked to the American school system (it was produced by NASA) because the activities are equally suited the the Key Stage Three curriculum.

Using lenses, prisms and mirrors students create telescopes, periscopes, microscopes and kaleidoscopes. Other activities include finding focal length and understanding reflection, refraction and diffraction.

The activity on pages 13-16 can be carried out as a demonstration which students will find highly amusing. For a variation of this activity, you can draw a simple maize and ask students to take it in turns to try to draw a line from the start the the finish by only looking in the mirror, but they won't be able to do it!  You can use a visualiser to project their efforts onto the board. 

publication year
2000 - 2009

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Tyndall Effect: Red Sky at Night

This demonstration will captivate students.  It helps to answer the simple, yet complex question: Why is the sky blue and the sunset red?

It's all to do with the scattering of the different colours in visible light and can be easily demonstrated using a suspension of milk in water.

publication year
2010 to date

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The Disappearing Coin Trick

Great for a starter to grab students attention.  Take a coin and place it under a clear, empty drinking glass. Students will be able to see the coin clearly through the glass. Then you slowly pour normal water into the glass and as it fills up, the coin vanishes.

publication year
2010 to date

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Shadow illusion

These Veritasium videos are a good way to capture students' attention at the beginning of a topic and create a sense of curiosity!

Derek Muller asks members of the public to predict the outcome of his simple pinhole experiments.

Holding up pieces of card with a different shaped hole in each, the image that appears on a wall is always a circle!

You could stop the film two minutes in and challenge students to explain why this happens, leading into an experiment with pinhole cameras so that students can work out the answer using ray diagrams

publication year
2010 to date

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The Vanishing Head aka Ghost Drink Trick

In this magic trick, based on Pepper's ghost, any object placed in a box becomes transparent or sometimes even vanishes. By controlling the relative amounts of light transmitted and reflected through a piece of Perspex at a 45 degree angle, objects seem to appear or vanish.

publication year
2010 to date

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Colour mixing

Such a great way to demonstrate colour light mixing.  You could do the demo yourself, or show the students the film. 

publication year
2010 to date

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Do Try This at Home: the Light Collection

Here's a selection of ideas that students can try out for themselves at home.  You could ask them to choose three to show someone in their family and then explain how it works to them. 

publication year
2010 to date

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Torches and colour

A suite of interactive features on the different concepts of light show:

* Torch lights being added (to demonstrate colour names, appearances and addition of colours)

* Viewing a scene through red, blue or green coloured filters

* Viewing a fruit bowl display in different coloured lights (to demonstrate the appearance of different coloured objects in different coloured lights).

publication year
2000 - 2009

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Sound and Light

After you've demonstrated how a sound wave travels by using a slinky, here's a very visual and captivating demonstration.

Martin Archer, from Imperial College, explores how to increase a child’s understanding of sound through a visual demonstration of a sound wave. He explains how a Rubens Tube can be used to show a sound wave by passing sound through a metal tube full of gas. The top of the tube has tiny holes along it, through which the gas escapes. When lit the flame length varies showing the compressions and rarefactions of the sound wave.

publication year
2010 to date

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Seeing Pink Elephants

This resource will let students see pink elephants.

When the human eye is exposed to one colour for a relatively long period of time, the cone cells will become saturated with that colour. Once the eye is exposed to a broad range of colours again, the brain will pick up weaker signals from that colour and an image with that colour missing will be formed.

publication year
2010 to date

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