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Teachers will learn how light behaves and the reasons why it does so. Topics to be studies include light propagation, shadows, refraction, lenses, prisms, color, eye properties, wave properties of light, and optical phenomena. Many activities will be conducted, including ray tracing, determination of lens focal lengths, making telescopes, and assembling spectroscopes. Many lecture demonstrations will be conducted for better understanding of the concepts of light and optics.



Each student will be expected to purchase a reading booklet at the time of registration or at the first class. This booklet contains material that should be read before the beginning of the second class.
Between the two classes, each student is required to research and build a project having to do with light and optics. The primary consideration is your understanding of the project, your ingenuity in producing it, and your description of how other teachers could also use it. A short typed description (perhaps only 2-3 pages) must be handed in giving resource material, instructions for building and using the item. A short discussion of how this project might be useful in the classroom would be appropriate. Also during the second class you will give a short (5-8 minutes) presentation to the class. A list of possible projects is given in this booklet, but each student is expected to do further research to improve on the ideas presented here. Do not just copy what is given here. Try to improve it. The handout is only a beginning. You are expected to do additional study and improve on the handout.


Because this is a graduate level class, only passing grades of A and B (with + and - possible) are given. A C grade is failing. It is also possible to audit the class, but ALL the work must be completed, including the project. Grades will be primarily assigned by the local adjunct professor and will depend on class attendance and participation as well as the presentation of the homework project. This presentation includes the oral one before the class as well as the document handed in describing the project. See the discussion above in Assignments.


Reading booklet:

A reading booklet will be prepared for class members that includes useful information on light and optics as well as possible homework projects and teacher applications. This booklet will be available at the first class. The booklet contains descriptions for the hands-on teacher activities we will perform during the class. The booklet also contains a set of hands-on experiments on light and optics from the American Association of Physics Teachers project: Powerful Ideas in Physical Science. We will use these experiments as our primary learning tool.


Instructor Contact:

Contact the local adjunct professor during the first class for her/his address and office hours. Professor Thornton may be contacted as described on the previous page. He will try to respond and will inform the adjunct professors of any decisions concerning the class.


Lesson Plan

First Class Day

8:30 - 9:00 a.m.

Video tape of philosophy and outline of course; introduction.

9:00 - 10:35 a.m.

Investigation L1: Light and Illumination
Investigation first, then Thornton video tape lecture.

10:35 - 11:20 a.m.

Reflection of Light: real images (Investigation L2).
Investigation and video lecture.

11:20 - 12:10 p.m.

Reflection of Light: virtual images (Investigation L5).
Investigations including LUV1, summarizing lecture.

12:10 - 12:40 p.m.


12:40 - 3:50 p.m.

Investigation: Refraction (L3, L5.4, LUV2, and LUV3).
Investigations and lecture video tape interspersed.

3:50 - 4:20 p.m.

Teacher Activities. Hopefully time will permit more teacher activities.

4:20 - 4:30 p.m.

Do evaluations. Sign up for homework projects.

Second Class Day

8:30 - 10:20 a.m.

Present homework projects. Do teacher activities if finish early.

10:30 - 11:20 a.m.

Investigation L4: Lenses and the Eye.
Investigations and lecture video tape interspersed.

11:20 - 12:05 p.m.

Diffraction; lecture video tape and then investigation.

12:05 - 12:35 p.m.


12:35 - 2:05 p.m.

Investigation L6: Color Addition and Color Vision
Lecture video tape and investigation interspersed.

2:05 - 2:50 p.m.

Investigation L7: Color Filters

2:50 - 3:15 p.m.

Thornton lecture on Atmospheric Optics

3:15 - 4:20 p.m.

Teacher Activities. Hopefully time will permit more teacher activities.

4:20 - 4:30 p.m.

Fill out evaluations.



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Teacher Activities

 The following is a list of Teacher Activities that are available in the course. We have attached several of the activities. Click here to see some TEACHER ACTIVITIES.




Does Light Travel in a Straight Line?


Creating Shadows


Measure the Diameter of the Sun


Quality of Reflection


Multiplying Reflections


Spoon Mirror


Blue Sky


Disappearing Glass


Refractive Properties of Water


Why Stars Twinkle


Water Sphere Lens


Water Drop Magnifier


Measuring the Magnifying Power of a Lens


Two Lens System


Putting the Cat in the Fish Bowl




Can a Pendulum Fool You?


Resolving Power of the Eye


Pouring Light with Water


Water Prism


Why Light is White


How Far Can You See Colors?


Color and Absorbing Heat Energy

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Teacher Projects

Only one person in a class can do each project until all projects are taken. Reference material is contained in the Teacher Project folder that your Instructor has, but we do not have copyright permission to make additional copies. Remember that you are expected to use other reference material, not just the material contained here! Try to improve on the technique here. References are in the list following the Teacher Projects.

1) How to Make a Sundial. Make one or more sundials using cardboard and a protractor. See if you can find references on how to make a cylindrical sundial (wrapped around a wooden dowel). Ref. 2, p.20-22, Ref. 11, p.134, Ref. 18, p.28-31.

2) How to Build a Stroboscope. A stroboscope is a device that slows down motion by looking at frames at a steady rate. Ref. 2, p. 125-129, Ref. 4, p.80-81, Ref. 12, p.9-14.

3) Make a Projector. Demonstrates how a projector works using a box, flashlight, and a magnifying glass. Ref. 3, p. 105.

4) Kaleidoscope. Make different kaleidoscopes using a variety of materials including a milk carton and tubes. Aluminized mylar is a great mirror material if you can get it. It is easy and safe to use instead of glass mirrors. Ref. 4, p.40-41, Ref. 11, p.137, Ref. 2, p.89-91, Ref. 15, p.56-58.

5) Periscope. Pretty simple periscopes can be made using milk cartons and mirrors. Ref. 4, p.42-43, Ref. 11, p.138, Ref. 2, p.92-95, Ref. 16, p.121-122.

6) Polarized Light Mosaic. Uses polarizers, transparent tape, and an overhead projector to create a mosaic of different colors. Can also be done with a 35 mm slide holder. Ref. 8, p.78-1 to 78-3.

7) Pinhole Camera. Make at least two pinhole cameras: one that allows you to see the image and one with film that will allow you to keep the image. This is a great project. Ref. 9, p.15, Ref. 2, p.101-105, Ref. 1, p.271, Ref. 15, p. 61-63, Ref. 16, p.102-103, Ref. 18, p.108-111.

8) Make a Stained Glass Window. Use colored cellophane to make more than one stained glass window. Ref. 11, p.159.

9) Make a Color Wheel. Somebody should do this one. Make a color wheel using paints, crayons, etc. You want to make one that appears almost white when it is spun fast. You will find various suggestions of what three primary colors to try (red, blue, yellow and red, blue, green). Report on what works best. You may find that not all the literature is correct. Also try wheels with primary and secondary colors. Try the zoomer technique and maybe a drill to spin the wheel. Ref. 16, p.126-127, Ref. 11, p.155, Ref. 2, p.48-51.

10) Black and White Disk. Make a disk with only black marks on it and see color when it is rotated. Even a camcorder will record the color. Make a tape if you can. This project will amaze people. Ref. 8, p.5-1 to 5-2, Ref. 16, p.128-130, Ref. 12, p.19-22.

11) Make Your Own Paint. Make paint using milk and water. We want to see some masterpieces showing different colors. Ref. 15, p.92-93.

12) How to Build a Refracting Telescope. Build a telescope from cardboard tubes and 2 lenses. Use your own materials. Ref. 2, p.123-124, Ref. 18, p.100-102, Ref. 11, p.145.

13) Decoding Secret Messages. Use different colors and color filters to make different designs and "secret messages". Ref 5, p.5-21.

14) Antigravity Mirror. The mirror described in the reference is too simple. We want you to build a self supporting frame, for example a cube, with the diagonal a mirror. You then step inside the cube and do tricks. Ref. 8, p.2-1 to 2-2.

15) Make a Magnifier. Use a butter tub, saran wrap and water to build a magnifier. Ref. 7, p.15.

16) Make Jello Lenses. Make lenses out of Jello.

17) Make a Light Box. Make a box out of cardboard with various slits in it to diffract light in different ways.

18) Make an Astronomical Telescope. Make a telescope with provided materials. Use it to make observations and report on them. Ref. 19, p.7-13.

19) Learn more about the Eye and Color Vision. Learn about the Model of Achromatic Vision and how the eye reacts to color. Explain it to the class. Try to think of some demonstrations. Ref. 17, p.131-136.

20) Make a spectroscope. Make a spectroscope with a telescope and diffraction grating that is provided to you in the kit. Use the spectroscope to measure the wavelengths of all the colors you observe in the diffracted light (blue, green, yellow, red at least).


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1. Tik L. Liem, Invitations to Science Inquiry, 2nd ed., (Science Inquiry Enterprises, 14358 Village View Lane, Chino Hills, CA 91709, 1987).

2. Robert W. Wood, Physics for Kids: 49 Easy Experiments with Optics (Tab Books, Summit, PA, 1990).

3. Janice VanCleave, 200 Gooey, Slippery, Slimy, Weird & Fun Experiments, (John Wiley, New York, 1993).

4. Diane Willow and Emily Curran, Science Sensations (Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass., 1989).

5. Cary I. Sneider, Alan Gould, and Cheryll Hawthorne, Color Anayzers - GEMS (Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley, 1989).

6. Linda Allison and David Katz, Gee, Wiz! (Brown, 1983).

7. My Big Fun Thinker Book of Light (Educational Insights). .

8. Exploratorium Science Snackbook (The Exploratorium, San Francisco, 1991).

9. Thomas Kardos, 75 Easy Physics Demonstrations (Walch, Portland, Maine, 1996).

10. Robert Hirschfeld and Nancy White, The Kids' Science Book (Williamson, Charlotte, Vermont, 1995).

11. Brenda Walpole, 175 Science Experiments (Random House, New York, 1988).

12. George Barr, Science Projects for Young People, (Dover, New York, 1964).

13. Janice VanCleave, Physics for Every Kid, 101 Easy Experiments in Motion, Heat, Light, Machines, and Sound (John Wiley, New York, 1991).

14. Robert W. Wood, When? Experiments for the young scientist, (Tab Books, Blue Ridge Summit, PA, 1995).

15. Margaret Kenda and Phyllis S. Williams, Science Wizardry for Kids, (Barron's, Hauppauge, New York, 1992).

16. Marvin N. Tolman, Hands-On Physical Science Activities, (Parker, West Nyack, New York, 1995).

17. Powerful Ideas in Physical Science, 2nd ed. (American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, 1996).

18. Dave Prochnow and Kathy Prochnow, Why? Experiments for the Young Scientist. (Tab Books, Blue Ridge Summit, PA , 1993) .

19. Project Star, Telescope Kit. (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, MA, 1990).


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Teacher Investigations:

The following is a list of Teacher Investigations that are available in the course. We have attached a few of the investigations to illustrate the format of the investigations and the course. Click here to see some TEACHER INVESTIGATIONS.

Investigation L1:Light and Illumination


Activity L1.1

How does light leave a bulb?

Activity L1.2

What are shadows?

Activity L1.3

What happens to the shadow if there is more than one light source?

Activity L1.4

What can a pinhole do?

Investigation L2:Reflection of Light

Activity L2.1

Can you always see mirror reflections?

Activity L2.2

How does light reflect from a mirror?

Skip Activity L2.3

Activity L2.4

How can you read a paper if it is hidden from your view?

Investigation L5:Images that Cannot be Formed on Screens

Activity L5.1

Where are your eyes focusing when you look at your mirror image?

Activity L5.2

How does a mirror work?

Activity L5.3

How can you see more of yourself?

Activity LUV1

Light appearance

Investigation L3:Refraction and Real Images

Activity L3.1

What does a lens do?

Activity L3.2

How does light change direction when passing through a transparent material?

Activity L3.3

What are some properties of a lens?

Activity LUV2

Properties of Lenses

Activity L5.4

Why do some objects seem displaced when viewed through transparent materials?

Activity LUV3

Optical fibers

Investigation L4:The Eye and Achromatic Vision

Activity L4.1

What are some of the properties of your eye?

Activity L4.2

How can we build a model for vision?

Activity L4.3

What do eyeglasses do?

Activity L4.4

How can different shades of gray be printed?

Activity LUV4

What is white light made of (diffraction gratings)?

Investigation L6:Color Addition and Color Vision

Activity L6.1

What happens when colored lights are overlapped?

Skip Activities L6.2 and L6.3

Activity L6.4

How are so many different colors produced on television screens and printed pictures?

Activity LUV5

What happens when colored paint is mixed together?

Activity L7.1

What happens when colored filters are overlapped?

Activity L7.2

How does a printer produce all those colors?

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SOLs Covered:


K.1, K.4, K.7

Grade 1


Grade 2


Grade 3

3.1, 3.11

Grade 4


Grade 5

5.1, 5.2, 5.3

Grade 6

6.1, 6.2

Physical Science

PS.1, PS.9

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