How Does Light Help Me See Things and Communicate With Others?

Gretchen Brinza, Katy Fattaleh, Michael Novak, Dan Voss, Patty Whitehouse
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This is the first lesson in a series of lessons listed below.  The first lesson starts out with students exploring how many shapes they can see on different pieces of paper at various locations around their classroom when the lights are turned off. 

Lessons in the unit include:

L1: What can we see in our room?

L2: How can I block the light that’s coming into our room through the windows?

L3: Which materials will block the light best (to help us make our room as dark as possible)?

L4: What do we see when we look into a place where all the outside light is blocked from getting in?

L5: How does letting light into the box affect what we can see inside it (with the ipad/smart phone)? 

L6: What are some light sources that are small enough and safe enough to bring into our box?

L7: What would we be able to see in the  box (or any closed up place, like a cave covered up at the opening) if we brought a light source into it?

L8: Where else do people use materials to block out the light?

L9: Will all materials create a shadow?

L10  Where else in the world do we see light sources, light going through different materials, and different materials making shadows

L11(a-c) How can we use light to communicate without making any noise? L11(d-f) How can we evaluate our designs and use the results of everyone’s tests to improve our own design?

L12 What materials could we use to redirect light around a corner to communicate with  someone in a different room, or in a different hallway, or on a different floor, without making a sound?


Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 1
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

1-PS4-2 Make observations to contruct an evidence-based account that objects in darkness can be seen only when illuminated.

Clarification Statement: Examples of observations could include those made in a completely dark room, a pinhole box, and a video of a cave explorer with a flashlight. Illumination could be from an external light source or by an object giving off its own light.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This lesson serves as students’ introduction to the concepts explored in this Performance Expectation. This is intended to be their first opportunity to explore the relationship between illumination and sight, and it continues to build towards this Performance Expectations in lessons that follow.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
In this lesson, students explore the world while illuminated and in the dark. They then use these experiences to develop a question about the nature of how they use sight to understand their world: “What can we see when it’s completely dark?” This question is then posted on a Driving Question Board, which is used to define a problem: “How can I make the space that I am looking at as dark as possible?”

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
As students build understanding around this Disciplinary Core Idea in later lessons, they come to develop a fuller understanding around illumination and radiation, and how that relates to their ability to see objects.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
In this lesson, students look for patterns in their observations to begin to explain what they observe when objects are illuminated.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: In this set of lessons, students explicitly use patterns in their observations to develop questions about the nature of how they see illuminated objects. Student sense making of phenomena is taking place because all three dimensions of the Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas are integrated in the lesson.

  • Instructional Supports: A variety of classroom artifacts makes this resource accessible and authentic. It is both scientifically accurate, and builds on students’ expressed ideas. However, more supports for diverse learners will need to be developed to make this resource accessible to all students.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: As the purpose of this lesson is to begin developing students’ questions about the phenomenon of illumination, there are fewer opportunities to demonstrate the criteria of Category III. While there is adequate opportunity to elicit direct, observable evidence of 3-dimensional learning, students are not yet ready to demonstrate understanding and receive feedback as described by the criteria in Category III.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: N/A