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Light Paths and Inquiry Paths

Light Paths and Inquiry Paths
Liane Angaran

The children were interested in continuing our light experiments and were particularly interested in how light travels. They wondered how we could see the moon because it wasn’t a star like the sun, which gives off natural heat and light. They also wanted to investigate why light looks different when it passes through something transparent versus something translucent. So we decided to explore how light travels by studying a laser with different mediums: clear plastic, translucent plastic, convex, concave, opaque, and opaque reflective. The children made predictions and sketched how the light would travel in their notebooks. Then we turned the laser box on and they would record the actual path of the laser. They were excited to see if their predictions were accurate. However, they were just as excited to see that they were not accurate because they discovered how different mediums affected the path of light and sometimes its intensity.

After studying some of the behaviors we had discussions on the importance of light and color in our lives.  I asked the children, “Why is color and light important?”  Here are some of their thoughts:

  • If it’s pitch black we couldn’t see anything and we’d crash into stuff. LM
  • If we didn’t have light we wouldn’t be able to eat because plants wouldn’t grow. What if we didn’t have the sun?EF
  • It would be cold. LM
  • Snow falling in Hawaii, very cold. LT
  • We need light for cities so we can see and walk around. LS
  • If all the light disappears we would have no Christmas lights to light up our house. KY
  • If there was no sun we would be cold and we would basically be Ice Age 2.  We would be extremely cold. JO
  • If we didn’t have light people would crash into each other and get hurt. LI
  • If you don’t have color it’s not fun.  If we have color it’s fun. KS
  • If there is no light everything would be gray. MS
  • If we had no color it would be hard to see shapes. JO
  • If we didn’t have color we wouldn’t know what’s what.  A giraffe would be plain white. DT

I wanted to probe to see why they would mention giraffes or any other animal with color so I asked, “Why is it important for giraffe’s or other animals to have color?”

  • Camouflage them from predators trying to eat them. LM
  • Giraffe’s have spots to show if they are male or female.  It shows who they are. LT
  • [Peacocks] The boys have more colorful tails and more feathers and girls look like chicken that’s gray. LT
  • They show off to girls. JO
  • If we didn’t have color we won’t know which car you have. PL
  • If we didn’t have color we don’t know if the animals have venom or not. MS

I gathered that they know a lot about why light and color are important already.  They indicated that we need light to grow things and to see for safety.  Color is important for organization, classification, and survival.  There were a few misconceptions to address, but it is fascinating to see how they were drawing on previous knowledge and others’ ideas to further the discussion.  We have more pathways to explore on our inquiry journey!

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