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Resources and conversation on PreK to 2 science

Light Foundations

ay and night, day and nightthe lives of young children are governed by this cyclethe classic refrain, Why do I have to go to bed? is no doubt commonly heard around the world by many parents every night. The day-and-night cycle forms the basis for understanding many other natural cycles in plants, animals, and Earth processes, as well as later learning about the solar system, and it is part of the National Science Education Content Standard D, Earth and Space Science, for grades K4. Learning about light is part of Content Standard B: Physical Science Light, Heat, Electricity, and Magnetism. When asked to consider the d i f f e r e n c e b e t we e n d a y a n d night, most children comment that in the day the Sun makes it light or the Sun is bright and
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its dark at night, but they do not understand the details about how the solar system works, even though they may tell you that Earth goes around the Sun. When studying this topic in early childhood, it is appropriate to focus childrens attention on the Sun and its movement across the sky through discussion and observation (AAAS 1993). The observations are indirect evidence of the Earths movement, a concept the children will become ready to understand in later years. A good starting point to helping children understand our observations of the Sun is the understanding that light travels in a straight path, which is ex-

plored in the hands-on activity that follows.

Resources
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 1993. Project 2061: Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford Press. National Research Council (NRC).1996. National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Peggy Ashbrook (scienceissimple @yahoo.com) is the author of S c i e n c e I s S i m p l e : O ve r 2 5 0 Activities for Preschoolers and teaches preschool science in Alexandria, Virginia.

Observing Lights Path


Objective:
To observe that light travels in a straight line.

Materials:
A darkened area in the classroom, such as a space underneath a table covered with a tablecloth, or a box large enough to fit both a childs head and a flashlight. For each pair of students: 1 flashlight 1 m of flexible opaque pipe, 510 cm in diameter, such as corrugated black plastic pipe used for draining water (check your local hardware store), or a discarded vacuum-cleaner hose (well cleaned). Note: store the tube coiled up in a bag so that it maintains a curved shape. Paper and pencil for recording observations

Procedure:
1. As an introduction to describing the path of light, set up a center with a darkened area and a flashlight for students to use independently. Allowing independent play before asking the students to work with the tubes will help them become comfortable using the flashlight, and since it will no longer be a novelty, they can focus on recording their observations. 2. Have the students work in pairs, one at each end of the pipe. One student will shine a flashlight into one end of the pipe while the other looks in the other to see if the light is visible. 3. With each trial, the students should draw or describe the shape of the pipe length (flat, curved, wavy, straight) and say whether or not the light was visible. Then have them switch roles, and the shape of the pipe, and shine the light through the pipe again. Allow enough time for the students to discover by themselves how to straighten out the pipe to make the light visible, or the reverse. If they are becoming frustrated, ask, What can you see if you hold the pipe so it is in a straight line (is curved)?

4. If the students have not noticed that light does not travel in curved lines, have the students put their hand through the pipe to touch their partners while you remark, Your arm can go through a bent tube but the light did not. What can your arm do that light cannot? Keep discussions about light and the Sun simple and relate them to childrens direct experience. The next time you are outside with the children, point to a patch of sunlight and say, This comes to us straight from the Sun! Always tell children that they should never look directly at the Sun or they will damage their eyes. If the Sun is not directly overhead, you can rotate your body so your face rotates toward and away from the Sun and in and out of shadow. Tell the children, As I turn, part of me is in the light, and part of me is not. If I were the Earth, the side toward the light would have daytime and the side away from the Sun would have night.

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PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

Teachers Picks
Here are some of Peggy Ashbrooks favorite resources for early childhood science about light and the Sun. If you would like to share your favorite resources for teaching your preK2 students, submit them for Teachers Picks at scienceissimple@yahoo.com.

Whats happening at http://science.nsta.org/ earlyyearsblog.


Introducing the Solar System
My feeling is that there is no reason not to respond [to students questions] with well-illustrated books, images, and descriptions of childrens interests; encourage their questions; and provide opportunities for discussion. But from the perspective of doing investigative/inquiry science in the classroom, I prefer to stick to what they can experience directly and the patterns and relationships they can come to understand themselves rather than attempting to explain things that are very abstract for this age level. That leads me to suggest that we stick to what can be learned from direct observation and focus on such things as the regularity of the apparent motion of the Sun and moon across the sky; the regular pattern of the phases of the moon; observing the sky at night and some of the differences among the starry objects and the change in position of some of them. This experience and close observation will be a foundation for later study of the underlying concepts. Karen Worth Senior Scientist Center for Science Education, EDC Newton, MA Read more and join the conversation at http://science.nsta.org/ earlyyearsblog.

Books
Light and Dark (Its Science). Sally Hewitt. 1998. Childrens Press. This book invites further exploration with photographs that carefully illustrate the concepts and the introduced vocabulary (such as opaque, iris, and reection) and with activities suggested by open-ended questions. My World of Science: Light and Dark. Angela Royston. 2001. Heinemann. A good introduction to light, reections, shadows, and other observations. The Suns Day. Mordicai Gerstein. 1989. Harper and Row. Children will look at this work of ction more than once to see all the details. The watercolor panoramas follow the Sun as it rises and sets, through both rural and urban landscapes. Sunshine, Moonshine. Jennifer Armstrong. 1997. Random House. The simple text of this early reader tells how the Sun shines on life at the beach throughout the day. What the Sun Sees, What the Moon Sees. Nancy Tafuri. 1997. Greenwillow. Views of both day and night are in this interesting double book about the cycle of day and night.

Internet
Stanford Universitys SOLAR Center http://solar-center.stanford.edu/sun-today.html This website has lesson plans, scientic and cultural information about the Sun, and lists websites where you can view current solar images made by a variety of sensing devices. Sun As a Star www.nasa.gov/pdf/145908main_Sun.As.A.Star.Guide.pdf A series of eight activities about light and the Sun, developed by The American Museum of Natural History with support from NASA, for afterschool learning for ages 512. Sundials The youngest students can watch as an older elementary student or an adult makes a sundial to show the approximate time of day with a shadow that moves as the world turns. Instructions can be found at: http://liftoff.msfc.nasa.gov/Academy/Earth/Sundial/Sundial-ConstructSimple.html www.exploratorium.edu/science_explorer/sunclock.html

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Science and Children

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