Light, Color, and Shadow

Grade 1
Linda Smith and Joellyn Wills
Sangamon Elementary

We see our unit on light, shadow, and color as an invitation for children to really look, to discover and think about the world around them in a new way, and hence to not take so much for granted. Observing shadows is a great way for them to notice changes, experimenting with mirrors and light paths can be puzzling and fun, and color is a wonderful union of science and beauty. Through the activities represented here, we want students to have the experiences of posing their own questions, taking risks, and recording their insights, in order to gain confidence in problem-solving. We consider these broader processes of inquiry to be the most important goals of the unit.

Light, shadow, and color are accessible and entertaining topics in physical science, an area that we was formerly underrepresented in our curriculum. One type of investigation that took on a life of its own in this unit was our work with mirrors. Although we had planned activities and extensions, the children came up with better extensions that we had imagined, such as one girl who eventually had an entire classroom full of children walking around with mirrors on their eyebrows, looking up but watching their feet! Planned and unplanned activities with mirrors had frequent connections to other themes we investigated all year long. Beyond experiments with mirrors, light paths, and color, the unit also includes some optical illusions that the children enjoy, and which keep them puzzling.

Our unit describes many interdisciplinary connections and resources that we have found valuable. The study of color, for example, has evident connections to art through play with the color wheel, color spectrum, and even colored icing. As a unit introduction, we were really pleased with how our reading of The Very Lonely Firefly, by Eric Carle, was a great attention gatherer and introduced light sources. Since our main focus in first grade is reading, we have attempted to make frequent references to relevant stories and poems.

Our approach to writing the unit has been to create a type of guide, and not a "cut curriculum." We hope others will pick and choose what they want, will come up with their own extensions to these activities, and will allow their students to come up with others. If you would like more information, or would like to dialogue with us about your experiences, please e-mail either Joellyn or Linda. We would be especially interested in your ideas for exploring shadow, an aspect of our unit that we feel needs the most development.

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