Thursday, January 23, 2014

Reflections on Rainbows (and Refraction) on a Snowy Day, Part I

Sometimes it just takes a snow day – a time out of context – to have the space to breathe, read, and reassess the work that informs so much of what we do in our first grade classroom.  In the midst of the busy-ness of our day-to-day, we are so immersed in the work of the group that, as educators, we must be mindful to stand back from it all and drink it in, and work to see the proverbial forest for the trees…to recognize the importance of what we offer children and the beauty and richness of what they give back to us each day. 

With snow and cold surrounding my home, it is lovely to be able to revisit our earlier work with Anna and our experiments in producing a rainbow with water on a warm, sunny afternoon.  After playing with light and mirrors in the garden, the children joined us near the doors of our classroom to work with mirrors and other media to make rainbows:

The children were given small plates of glass, mirrors, clear jars of water, and colored bottles of water and invited to use light to make their own rainbows.  Some students noticed that if they used their mirrors near the second grade classroom windows, they could reflect light inside through the glass - "maybe we could make lamps with no electricity."  Others had fun using the reflected light from the mirrors to make a light dance.  As in the garden, they were gaining more understanding that light's straight path can be easily manipulated for different purposes.  

How, then, are the colors of a rainbow made?  A few children tried spraying water in front of mirrors bouncing light to try to make a rainbow, and others sprayed water directly onto the mirrors to see if that might work - both techniques were tested to no avail.  G., J., R., N.S., and E.K. were interested in using clear water jars and mirrors to see if they could make a rainbow, while A.L. was determined to make a rainbow by shining light through color paddles and colored bottles of water - remembering the work we had done with Anna in the impromptu light studio.  
Purple, blue, green...looks like part of a rainbow...but is it a rainbow?

W. and R. try using a glass of water to make a rainbow 
The mirror shines its light onto the glass, and spreads light out from the glass
A pathway of light from one glass to another...but still, no rainbow
Through play they were experiencing the properties of light, but the question remained:  are these real rainbows?  What will help us achieve the desired result? Only after experimenting with these other materials awhile was water sprayed from a hose introduced as a medium.  

While there was great delight and excitement as we created our rainbow (and occasionally double rainbows) with the water hose, there was authentic, hands-on learning at the heart of our playful experimentation. 


We took the next few days to thoughtfully process the lessons learned. Comparative discussions about the nature of reflection and refraction, and analysis of observable phenomena as way to understand light's invisible pathways allowed the children to synthesize their understanding.  While it can be difficult to express their thoughts about the properties of light in writing, having personal experiences with light and sharing their thoughts aloud enabled the children to take the next steps to communicate their ideas visually.  

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