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Becky McCoy

Lesson Title: Light Introduction Timing: 60 minutes

Target Audience:
11th and 12th grade Physics course

Students Will Be Able To:
• Define light by the Ray and Wave Theories.
• Describe the progression of the scientific community’s thoughts on light.
• Explain the electromagnetic spectrum.

The Teacher Will Be Able To:

• Assess student preconceptions of light.
• Begin to address misconceptions.
• Provide students with an overview of the most important aspects of light.

Standards Assessed: New York State Standards in Physics

PERFORMANCE INDICATOR 4.3: Students can explain variations in wavelength and
frequency in terms of the source of the vibrations that produce them, e.g., molecules,
electrons, and nuclear particles.
4.3g Electromagnetic radiation exhibits wave characteristics. Electromagnetic waves can propagate
through a vacuum.
4.3hWhen a wave strikes a boundary between two media, reflection, transmission, and absorption occur.
A transmitted wave may be refracted.
4.3k All frequencies of electromagnetic radiation travel at the same speed in a

Misconception(s) Addressed:
• Light just is and has no origin.
• Light does not travel.
• Light does not bounce or reflect.
• Images stay on the surface of a mirror.

Prior Knowledge: Wave & Sound Units

Aim: Develop the progression of the Wave-Particle Duality principle as well as light sources and

Concept Map Vocabulary: from Light & Optics Concept Map

• Visible light • Ultraviolet • Ray Model
• Spectrum • Color • Frequency
• Retina • Wavelength • Medium
• Infrared • Wave Model • Reflection
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• Diffraction • Refraction

Necessary Preparation:

• Laser (if available)
• Flashlight
• Empty soda can
• Water
• Computer and projector
• Small mirrors
• String
• Masking tape

• If not using a laser: Cut 2 squares of cardboard. In one square cut one slit in the middle and in the
other square cut two slits. Have tape available to attach the cardboard squares to the flashlight.
• Punch a hole on the side of the soda can, near the bottom. Be sure the sharp edges are on the
inside of the can.
Becky McCoy

Lesson Plan
Aim: Develop the progression of the Wave-Particle Duality principle as well as light sources and

Physics Push-Up:
• Discuss quiz grades – not everyone has finished, so schedule time to take it.
• HW for Wednesday on the portal.
• Hand in Wave Worksheet

• Laser (if available)
• Flashlight
• Empty soda can
• Water
• Computer and projector


Point out that sound (the last unit) is relatively straightforward – there are not many equations or concepts to
discuss. There are some similarities and differences between light and sound.

Relate to old vocab as needed:

• constructive • period • antinode • transverse
interference • wavelength • node • v=λ f
• destructive • velocity • medium • v = d/t
interference • crest • reflection • T = 1/f
• pitch • trough • refraction • sonic boom
• echo • amplitude • diffraction • standing wave
• frequency • wave • longitudinal

“What are sources of light?” Write all student responses on the board:
• electricity • sun • fire
• lava • cat eyes • fire fly
• computer • flashlight • fireworks
• moon • cell phone • explosion

“Looking at this list, what might be a definition of light?” Write all responses on the board.

“What was our definition of sound? How could we define light in a similar way?” Light is a vibration on
an atomic level.
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“What categories could we use to describe each of these light sources?” Label each suggestion. Hopefully,
students will realize “moon” and “cat eyes” are reflecting the light from another source. Label these suggestions
with (reflection) and explain that they do not produce light – they are not the source – they appear to be, but are
just reflecting light.
• Chemical reaction (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZOcGtlbvRc)
• Nuclear decay
• Electrons flowing in a current
• Excite particles with a lot of heat energy

“Let’s look at some ways that light behaves.”

• Shine the laser or single-slit flashlight against the wall.
• Ask what the light looks like (a dot or a single slit).
• Ask what the source looks like (a circle or a single slit).
• “So, we could say that light doesn’t really diffract like sound does. This is what is called the Ray Model
because the light moves like a straight line, or a ray in math.”
• Write a description of the Ray Model on the board.

• Pour water into the soda can so students can see the water coming out of the hole.
• Repeat shining the flashlight into the can and allow students to see the light “bending” and coming out
of the hole with the light.
• Repeat with the laser.
• Ask students how the light could be coming out of the hole if light is a ray and moves in a straight line.
• If the light can reflect, then it is behaving as a wave. Write the “wave model” on the board.

“The debate between the Ray and Wave Models have been going on (and still continue to a degree). Let’s
look at the progression of understanding how light behaves.”

Present the following chart by era: Ancient Greek, Renaissance, and Modern Times. Write the general ideas on
the board.

Ask questions like:

• Does this make sense? Why might someone view light this way?
• What kinds of observations could lead to this understanding of light?
• What have you observed that agrees or disagrees with these ideas?
• How do your eyes really work?

Socrates & Plato Ancient Greek Light is streamers coming from the eye
Euclid Ancient Greek Light is streamers because we don’t see anything until we look at it
Pythagoreans Ancient Greek Light travels from luminous/lit objects to the eye in tiny particles
Empedocles Ancient Greek Light travels in waves
Descartes Renaissance Publishes book agreeing with Socrates, Plato, & Euclid
Newton Renaissance Light is particles because it travels in a straight line, not spreading
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like waves
Huygens Renaissance Light is a wave because under certain circumstances light does
spread out like a wave (diffraction)
Einstein Modern List is particles because it consists of photons (massless bundle of
electromagnetic energy)
De Broglie Modern Light has a wavelength: λ =h/p
Davisson & Germer Modern Experiment measures De Broglie wavelength

“We’ve talked about the speed of light as being faster than the speed of sound and did some problems last
week using the speed of sound (two people on mountain tops hearing a delay in a gong strike).
• How might you measure the speed of light?
• What might be difficult about that?
• How could you anticipate these things?”

Galileo Italian Flash a lamp at assistant a distance away who flashes it back.
However, light traveled too fast to be measured.
Roemer Danish Saw that Jupiter’s moon Io appeared to be slightly behind or in front
of its predicted orbit when Jupiter was further or closer to the Earth.
This led him to discover that light has a velocity because he noticed
a delay in being able to see the moon. (Draw this on the board like
the diagram below)
Hertz German Measures the speed of electromagnetic radiation and finds it travels
at 300,000 km/sec


The black dot refers to Jupiter’s moon Io. Roemer observed that
it had a regular orbit around its planet. However, when the Earth
was closer to Jupiter in its orbit, Io seemed to be ahead of itself.
When it was further away, Io seemed to be lagging behind.
Roemer concluded that the change in distance cause a delay in
the light because when the plants were closer together, the light
had less distance to travel. Since looking into space means
looking back in time, the moon appeared to be in different places
in its orbit.

Electromagnetic Radiation – draw a transverse wave on the board with an extremely short wavelength on the
left and long wavelength on the right. Ask students:
• what changes about the frequency from end to end?
• what types of light do you know? Where along the spectrum does it belong?
Becky McCoy

Label the types of electromagnetic radiation. If appropriate, describe mega-Hz for radio waves (106).

Scale Atom Virus Bacteria Dust Pinhead Finger-

nails to
λ (meter) 10-12 to 10-10 10-10 to 10-8 10-8 to 10-7 10-7 10-6 to 10-4 10-4 to 10- 10-2 to 1

Wave Gamma Ray X Rays Ultraviolet Visible Infrared Micro- Radio-

Light waves waves
F (Hz) 1020 to 1018 1018 to 1016 1016 to 1015 1015 1014 to 1012 1012 to 1010 to 108

• Why are Gamma, X, and UV rays so dangerous?
• Where does visible light and color fit in?

Draw an arrow where visible light and colors fit in. Label the spectrum of
wavelengths for color: 400nm to 650nm. Describe a nano-meter as 10-9.

The diagram should look something like the one to the left
(http://dawn.artov.rm.cnr.it/dict.html), only horizontal.
Violet Indigo Blue Green Yellow Orange Red
400nm 445nm 475nm 510nm 570nm 590nm 650nm

Activity Summary:
Ask for six volunteers. Have two hold small mirrors at eye level with the
mirror towards themselves and holding the middle of the string. The
other students hold the ends of the string and guess where they need to stand to be able to see each other in the
mirror. The third student should flip the mirror the other way and the two students correct themselves. Lay
down masking tape along the path of the string and have students make observations as to what is happening.
What looks symmetrical?

On the portal for Wednesday.

Exit Strategy: n/a

Extension Activity:
Draw ray diagrams of what is happening in the mirror activity on the board.

Becky McCoy

• Student responses to conversation

• Student responses to brainstorming

• Chemical reaction video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZOcGtlbvRc)
• Electromagnetic Spectrum picture (http://dawn.artov.rm.cnr.it/dict.html)

Notes & Adaptations: