Pinhole Cameras and Eyes

The Science Learning Hub – New Zealand
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Instructor Guide/Manual , 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.



In this activity, students make a pinhole camera and see images formed on an internal screen. They then use a lens to see how this affects the images. Students investigate variables in its construction, and explore how it models the human eye's ability to receive and process information.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 6
  • Grade 5
  • Grade 4
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

4-LS1-2 Use a model to describe that animals receive different types of information through their senses, process the information in their brain, and respond to the information in different ways.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on systems of information transfer.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the mechanisms by which the brain stores and recalls information or the mechanisms of how sensory receptors function.

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The pinhole camera models how the eye receives information. The addition of a lens and placing a smaller hole in front of the lens that mimics squinting models how humans might respond to the information in different ways. It demonstrates how our perceptions guide our actions (LS1.D: Information Processing).

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
This activity includes instructions and questions for extending the lesson from observing an image formed by a pinhole camera (or camera obscura) to testing different variables affecting the image produced (e.g. hole size, distance of image from hole, and use of a lens to refract incoming light). As students report their findings, it is important to explicitly identify a cause and an effect when describing the relationships they have discovered.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This activity focuses on animals receiving light information through their eyes and how an upside-down image is processed by the brain, but it does not address the response to the stimulus. Teachers may want to provide students with background information or other experiences to help them understand the causes of the image inversion and how the brain's response to visual information aids in an animal's survival.

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 activity concentrates on the creation of a model and on its comparison to the human eye, but does not explicitly refer to the parts as components of a system. Reference could be made to other sense organs as well as how they are parts of an interdependent system of information processing.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This resource has students build a model that is compared to the structures and functions of the human eye. Teachers could improve the activity by providing an opportunity for students to explain how variables in the device design affect the nature of the image created. If students were encouraged to brainstorm explanations for the differences in observed phenomena, it would help to deepen understanding. The information processing aspect of the standard is not explicitly addressed, but could easily be incorporated into the activity.

  • Instructional Supports: This resource provides clear student instructions on building a pinhole camera, many discussion questions, and a great deal of background information for the teacher, including visual models. Similarities and differences between the device and the human eye are addressed. It might help to provide instructions for recording observations and answering questions in a Science notebook and to provide a diagram comparing the eye and a camera (available here:, . Other resources that could prove useful: - shows several other construction techniques - provides instructions for capturing images on photosensitive paper. There is no guidance for teachers to support differentiated instruction.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Other than anecdotal observations or direct questioning of students during the activity, no student progress monitoring is present. Much of the teacher background information is provided in a Q & A format with visual models provided for each answer. Students could be assessed if they were asked to illustrate or develop their own models to explain the observed phenomena. Students could also be asked to critique each others' models in a small group or whole class arrangement, providing further opportunities for assessment and for strengthening this practice.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The activity itself has no technological interactivity, but the website provides links to articles, additional activities, and media that support and extend the lesson under the topic Light and Sight.