What’s the Frequency, Roy G. Biv?

Kara C. Granger
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Experiment/Lab Activity
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.


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3 Add additional info for color blind students

Per federal and state requirements, care should be taken when using color to convey information. See federal 508 standards and http://www.nysed.gov/webaccess/color-and-contrast. While this activity is interesting, it needs supplemental directions so that those students with red/green or yellow/blue color vision deficiencies might participate. It's important to support teachers so they can easily ensure their students with color vision deficiencies can also participate in learning activities. See https://www.color-blindness.com/ for initial information.


This lab activity explores how the different wavelengths and frequencies of the visible light spectrum relate to each other to create the specific color bands.  Students take part in team roles to build and use a simple apparatus for measuring “wavelength” using pencils, adding machine tape, and file folders. This resource includes lab procedures, data table, and closing assessment. As students take part in this lab activity they will see how the different wavelengths and frequencies  of the visible light spectrum relate to each other to create  the specific color bands.   Students will take part in a lab activity where they will use measurement to simulate frequency and wavelength.   Through the use of group designated roles, teams of students will construct the simulator, and then use it to understand content correlation.  The activity is concluded with a set of discussion questions.  

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

MS-PS4-2 Develop and use a model to describe that waves are reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through various materials.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on both light and mechanical waves. Examples of models could include drawings, simulations, and written descriptions.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to qualitative applications pertaining to light and mechanical waves.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This activity has the flavor of the PE within its processes. To make the connection to the PE more intentional it is suggested that in the “Introduction” and “Background” parts of the lesson students have the opportunity to work with prisms and light. Having students go through this step will have them generate some questions around the phenomenon of light, and may anchor some of their background knowledge to what they are seeing. Another benefit of students working with prisms and light is the entire PE will now be in play to be studied. As students work with light they may see, or think of ways, light can be reflected or absorbed. The more work with prisms and light, the better understanding student will have about light, reflection, and absorption. Working with prisms and light provides students the opportunity to use their background knowledge to develop questions about reflection, absorption, and the frequency of ROY G. BIV. This lesson would also serve well to be studied along with their math class due to the crossover math components.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
In order to clearly include this practice it is suggested that students see an image of the light spectrum and make predictions as to how this phenomena occurs. This could be a rainbow, or light refracting in a prism. Developing questions, or ideas, prior to constructing the adding machine tape model will help students to connect the core idea, and cross-cutting concept to their model. The model in this activity has students using adding machine tape to create models of three color frequencies. If students can make prediction based on their background knowledge before they make their model, they may be better equipped to see the relationship between wavelength and frequency in the light spectrum.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The DCI is effectively included in the activity, by examining the frequency tapes students will be able to see how the frequency of three colors of light are different. A tip for further inclusion would be to have the students make predictions of the non-tested colors. After the initial activity, students could make predictions for the remaining four colors that are not plotted on the machine tape in the activity. This extension would be helpful to ensure that students understand that each color of the spectrum exists at a specific frequency.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The introduction of this lesson provides an opportunity to establish the CCCs from the beginning of the lesson. After students look at the graphic, and then write for 5 min. to chronicle their observations, time should be given for students to share insight. Teacher could ask, “Did you notice any patterns in the number of waves (frequency) you see as you moved down the chart?” After students provide their observations a follow-up question along the lines of, “How does the energy change as you move down the chart?” will help students use their background knowledge to make the connection that as the frequency increases, the energy increases. As students proceed through the lesson they should continue to be given time to collaborate to develop questions or observations they see regarding patterns and energy. This activity could become one where the teacher provides the connections to the CCCs, but if students are given time to look at their data, they should see the patterns of the rate of change of waves and how that change affects the energy produced by waves.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
See previous comments

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Many electromagnetic spectrum activities focus on math integration as a primary focal point for students to understand the phenomenon of how light is separated. This activity, and the model that the students make, will help students in seeing how spectrum colors are different. The SEP/DCI/CCC are intertwined as students make, collect data, analyze, and more importantly think during this exercise. The math component is strong, but not to a point where students with lesser math understanding will become frustrated. The discussion on the wrap-up worksheet give the students the opportunity to process the DCI. The three dimensions are all present and are well incorporated over the length of the lesson. The main area that makes this resource strong is the wrap-up worksheet. Its format is more individual in nature. If the questions were revised to make it more collaborative the resource would be a superior resource. In its current form the questions are too one dimensional, where there is a correct answer.

  • Instructional Supports: The phenomenon of ROY G. BIV is authentically and meaningfully developed in this activity. The purpose is clear and students are actively engaged in figuring out the phenomena. The students are able to build upon their background knowledge early in the activity, and they can continue to add new knowledge and understanding to their base as they work through the lesson. The scientific information, specifically the spectrum table, is useful to the students,. The image of the TV remote control and the airport security scanner bring in relevant concepts. This could be added to with items like cell phone data, or text messaging wavelengths to deepen the students relevancy into the spectrum’s visual cues. There is not enough opportunity for students to express and represent their thinking, as well as opportunities for peer and teacher feedback at this time. With revisions to some wrap-up questions this area can be strengthened. Finally, revisions that allow student voice, argumentation, and problem solving would enhance the quality of the resource

  • Monitoring Student Progress: As the students make the three spectrum wavelength models direct observable evidence of the three dimensions is seen. This is a very visual activity and as students work through the process they will see and understand the ROY G. BIV phenomenon. The use of formative assessments and rubrics is not spelled out in the lesson text. Formative assessment components could easily be added throughout the lesson as checks of student progress. Using some of Page Keeley’s science and math formative assessments would provide easy and measureable progress monitors during the lesson (Page Keeley: Science Formative Assessment vol 1 & vol. 2 )A rubric for the actual model would also give students a more focused completion goal. This rubric could even be of the single-point variety to give students a simple way to gauge their model’s success.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -