Search form

I'm Dreaming of a
Bright Holiday


You and Your Students!

Script By

Vicki Cobb, Education World Science Editor


Use optics to decorate your classroom.


Physical Science, Light

Props Required

This an assignment that you give your students. Students will use found objects in the home for this assignment.
  • string, tape and other materials for hanging/displaying "holiday lights" decorations that students create

Setting the Scene (Background)

The holiday season is approaching. To help you and your students get into the spirit, you decorate your classroom, right? Why not use the occasion to learn about the properties of light? The result will give your room a unique and festive look.

Stage Direction

Show-Biz Science is scripted by popular children's book writer Vicki Cobb. Click to learn more about Vicki or to read a brief synopsis of her philosophy of teaching science.

Visit our archive of archive of Show-Biz Science Activities. Watch for a new activity each week. Then chat with Vicki -- share your feedback and ask your questions about teaching science -- on our special Showbiz-Science message board.

Be sure to visit Vicki's Kids' Science Page for more great science fun, a complete list of her books, and information about how you can invite Vicki to come to your school. And don't miss her library of science videos too. Or visit Vicki and other great authors of nonfiction for children at the INK Think Tank.

Give your students a week to do this assignment. Then, when they bring in the results, let students present their work to the class during a “show and tell” period.

The Plot

Act I
Light is a form of energy; it has properties distinct from other forms of energy.

Share the following properties of light with your students. As you introduce each concept/property, have students describe objects they know that exhibit those properties. Note: Some objects exhibit more than one of these properties.

  • Reflection -- the bouncing of light off shiny surfaces.
  • Refraction -- the bending of light as it passes through one transparent material to another. Some refracted light can be broken up into the spectrum showing a rainbow. Crystal chandeliers take advantage of refraction.
  • Diffraction -- the bending of light as it squeezes through tiny openings (as in a pin-hole camera) or is reflected off tiny ridges. An example is the colored light reflecting off a CD.
  • Color -- when white light strikes an object, the color of objects depends on the color of the light that is not absorbed. The spectrum of color includes red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet (ROY G. BIV); an orange object absorbs all the other colors except orange, which is reflected.
  • Transparency -- a transparent material is one that transmits light. Light passes through it. Some transparent materials are air, water, glass, and some plastic.
  • Translucency -- a translucent material transmits some light but not enough to see through. Waxed paper and some plastic containers are good examples of translucent materials.
  • Opacity -- light does not pass through opaque materials. An opaque object will cast a shadow.
  • Internal reflection -- fiber-optic decorations are examples of this property. (See another Show-Biz Science activity, Guiding Light.)
  • Color Mixing -- the primary light colors are red, green, and blue. If you mix all three light beams with these colors they produce white light. (Mixing light is different from mixing paint. When you mix pigments, the primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. If you mix all three you get close to black, which absorbs all the colors of the spectrum.)

After introducing students to the properties of light above, you might give them an overnight assignment: Have them bring in from home examples of objects that exhibit different properties of light. Give students time to share the objects they bring from home and tell about the properties they exhibit.

Introduce the activity: Challenge students to create a holiday decoration. They should use found materials in the home to create a decoration that exhibits at least one of the properties of light. Encourage them to be creative; you'll be very pleasantly surprised at the creations they will pull together! Give them a week or two to complete their decoration projects. Then set aside time for students to "show and tell" the decorations they made. Have them describe the properties of light that their decorations exhibit. Finally, create a display of students' holiday "properties of light" decorations. Have them hang from or place alongside their decorations a sign that states the light property(s) exhibited in their decorations.

Note: The results of this activity will be best if you give as little specific direction as possible. Let students' creativity carry the assignment. If you feel you need to do more to set up the activity, you might bring in several store-bought holiday decorations (for example, a shiny ornament, a fiber-optic wreath, a silver menorah, a crystal bell ornament) and ask students to identify the properties of light that each decoration exhibits.

The End

You might want to get the art teacher involved in this project. You’ll be amazed at what the kids will produce -- and your classroom will be worthy of a tour!

See more experiments with sound in Bangs and Twangs: Science Fun with Sound by Vicki Cobb, illustrated by Steve Haefele, The Millbrook Press, 2000.

Article By Vicki Cobb
Education World®
Copyright © 2004 Education World