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The Enchantment of Light and Shadow

A Marvellous, Observable Science

From TeachersMatter Edition 53 Anyone interested in education knows the importance of studying STEM subjects. If you are interested in science for young investigators from four to nine years of age, I suggest light and shadow. This marvellous, observable science has aesthetic qualities, but its real joy of light is the ease with which its effects can be transformed and manipulated. The exploration can cross severaldisciplines as you’llsee below. Providing Equipment and Materials Indoors Start with a screen and overhead projector. (I knowprojectors are outdated, but it’s worth the effort of sourcing one in the dusty storeroom or under the stage!) Provide a varietyof transparent, translucent and opaque materials like wishing stones, metal washers, small wooden blocks and craft matchsticks.

Allowing children to experiment freely and project images on the screen. If you can’t find a projector, use a piece of Perspex set up on blocks 25cm above a large sheet of white paper. For the light source, provide mini torches. As children shine the torchesover materials on the Perspex,they create shadowsand reflections on the paper below. Going from Random Experimentationto Purposeful Design

Initially the experimentation is random, but over timechildren learn to control what they create. They master how different elements interact with one anotherand design their projections purposefully using repetition, colour patternsand symmetry. They learn to change the size of the images by moving the torch furtheror closer to the materials or they create complex shadows by using two or more torches. The minute they have control,they are in the positionto transfer and apply their knowledge in new contexts.

The students not only learned what light was and how it behaved, but also applied that knowledge in the real world to breathe life into their creative ideas.

Outdoor Exploration

Light can be explored outdoors. A group I taught could hardly be tempted back inside because of an infatuation with their own shadows!Intrigued by how their shadowschange length and direction throughout the day, they recorded the changes and drew around each other’s shadows with coloured chalk and recordedthe times. To complement their interest, we strung up lines betweenthe poles and trees and suspended different sizes and colours of laminated translucent tissue, cellophane and patternedpaper. This created fabulous, colouredshadows. We draped and pegged sheets of thin fabric in places where lightwas beaming from different directions. In one spot, light was coming from inside a building througha window into the playground and directly from the sun. This complicated and multiplied the shadows. We added foils and other reflective surfaceslike mirrors. Going from Observation to Theorising The variety of displays and materials promptedstudents to theorise about how and why the shadows and reflections moved and transformed. They started to articulate whetherthe light had been blocked, went through surfaces or were reflected. They theorised that light emanatedfrom a source like the sun or a lamp and that it travelledin straight lines.They talked about light and shadow as though they had personalities and motives. We documented their ideas as they were uncovering the physical laws of light on their own! We showed them how white light split into colours through a spectrum. Application of Knowledge

After several weeks of investigation, children were invitedto design their own light projects. One group wrote a shadow play. They incorporated knowledge of opacity, translucency and transparency to design shadow puppets.

They were able to calibrate the size of creatures so when more characters were on screen,they reduced the size of the shadows. Other students projected light collages with different materialsonto the screen which they photographed for a ‘Light Gallery.’ Another group loved how white light was magically transformed into a spectrum of rainbow colours. They wanted to make the ‘music of light.’ They chose five colours and gave each a musical note. The music was played on resonator bells, a type of xylophone, except that each sound is a separate ‘bell’ handed out individually. The ‘bells’ are based on the pentatonic scale, always emitting harmonious sounds. The children cut strips of coloured paper and lined them up to compose melodies. Five children each held a bell and there was a conductor to point out the notes. When their colour came up, they would play. One child suggested that the sounds could be repeated, so they cut out multiplestrips of each colour. Blue, or anyother colour could be repeated several times before moving on to another sound. Another child suggested the music could be sped up or slowed down. The children spaced the notes out to indicate more or less time before the next note. They recorded their own music. In this project, musical composition used the arrangement of colour as notation and space as time - all based on light!

Conclusion Science, art, puppetry, time, space, narrative and music were all used in a multidisciplinary fusion. In this curriculum project, the students not only learned what light was and how it behaved, but also applied that knowledge in the real world to breathe life into theircreative ideas.

Lili-Ann Kriegler Lili-Ann Kriegler (B. A Hons, H. Dip. Ed, M.Ed.) is aMelbourne-based education consultant and author of Edu-Chameleon. Lili-Ann’s primary specialisations arein early childhood education (birth-9 years), leadership and optimising human thinking and cognition. Her current part-time role is as an education consultant at Independent Schools Victoria and she runs her ownconsultancy, Kriegler-Education. She is a child, parent and family advocate who believes that education is a positive transformative force for humanit. Find out more at:

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