Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Light and Optics Unit Schedule and Lesson Plan

Light is so fascinating. And I'm so unqualified to teach it! My Dad was a physicist, my three brothers are physicists, my husband is an artist who specializes in teaching how to capture lighting effects in art, and ALL of them know so much more about light than I do that I really wished I could just turn this whole subject over to them to teach. But, as always, I just got hundreds of books from the library, read everything I could find, watched lots of videos, and hoped it would be enough. I also asked my "panel of experts" lots of questions as I went. :) I know that some of the concepts we learned in this unit are oversimplified and maybe even inaccurate because we are having to simplify them so much, but we've really loved this unit anyway, and I hope it will be a good foundation for MORE in-depth study later on.

For example, any unit on light has to include a discussion of wave-particle duality. After reading some books and talking about different behaviors of light that demonstrate each of those characteristics, we watched videos like this one, on "Schrödinger's Cat," and this one, on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. They're a bit advanced for the children (and even for me, really) but they introduce fascinating concepts anyway. Although Malachi did say after Schrödinger's Cat, "I wish you'd never told us ANY of this!" :)

Probably our favorite video was this one about wave-particle duality. I think my brother would disapprove somewhat of all these videos because they focus more on the "weirdness" and flashiness of all these concepts and less on the principles behind them. And probably because again, in trying to simplify or popularize a concept, we are losing accuracy. (Which is the fundamental problem with all TED talks, come to think of it.) But I've always loved the idea of wave-particle duality (in all its weirdness) and I was pretty sure at least the older kids would be fascinated by it too, so…sorry, Karl. :) Karl maintains that the only way to truly understand physics is through mathematics, and without the right math, there's no way to fully make sense of it all. He says it gets much easier to understand once you have the math, too, since calculus is a language made up especially for the purpose of expressing concepts of physics. But since none of the children are old enough for calculus yet (and I've forgotten all my calculus, more's the pity), we have to bungle along without complete understanding, for now. It was very helpful to write to him in all my confusion about various concepts and have him say things like, "Just don't even worry about that yet," or, "For now, all you need to know is ____." There is just so much to learn!!

The Happy Scientist has some great resources on light (scroll down to see the list)—both videos and written experiments. I think you can access the written experiments without a subscription, but we love his videos too and find the subscription price well worth it.

This is a great chart for reviewing the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

If it had been summer, we would have liked to make a solar oven when talking about lenses and parabolic light collectors. From what I read, you have to have pretty hot temperatures (like above 85F) to make something like this pizza box oven work. So we'll hopefully get a chance to try it another time. Here's a video about focusing sunlight, as you would for a solar oven or a solar heater.

Here is some stuff you can get to help you learn about light and optics. We were happy with all these things, as they allowed plenty of exploration and allowed us to do all kinds of projects and experiments:
  • First of all, we have this (relatively) high-powered laser pointer. You can do most projects with a cheaper, flimsier laser, but since we all like this sort of thing, we wanted the nicer one. Also, the laser projection microscope experiment is more impressive with a higher-powered laser. (And it's great for astronomy!)
  • We liked this light experiment kit, which comes with ideas for how to use the components to learn about light. It has a diffraction grating and polarizing film and some lenses (not great ones).
  • These color paddles are fun for learning about color mixing, etc.
  • These lenses and prisms were a lot nicer than the others. Great for seeing refraction. We liked how they show a "cross-section" view.
  • We also have a heavier glass prism like this (Sam uses it for his class).
  • This is a good, compact but bright flashlight we used for lots of things.
  • You can request a free video on optical engineering here. I just emailed and they sent it right to me. It looks like they have free posters available as well.

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