Writing: Making the Invisible Visible
Duration: Approximately 50 minutes
Students consider what different animals' visual systems can see in infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light, and they reflect on why different animals see differently. They end by writing a short science fiction or fantasy scene that imagines the action from the point of view of a creature with another visual system.
Students learn that the electromagnetic spectrum contains radiation that is both visible and invisible.
- After this lesson, you may choose to pursue the topics of light and color with your students more in-depth. We recommend building spectroscopes, setting up light exploration stations, or solving light mazes with mirrors and prisms. There are plenty of ideas for hands-on projects and labs to do in the National Science Digital Library.
- Another extension of this activity is to explore more ways to make “invisible” UV light visible to humans. Different white paper looks remarkably different under UV light.
- ELA connection: the final section of this activity, a creative writing piece about how other creatures see differently, can be accompanied by a reading from Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. You may use the excerpt either as a follow-up or as a context-setter. In Chapter 11, "Aunt Beast" tells Meg, "We do not know what things look like, as you say.... We know what things are like."
- Some students may not respond well to the unfamiliar terminology used when describing waves. Judge whether your students would absorb the material better if you use the word "electromagnetic" or abbreviate it "EM." Calling all EM waves "light waves" is simpler and technically accurate (since all EM waves travel at the speed of light) but may confuse students who will think only of visible light. For more on challenges using text, see the SERP materials on Reading to Learn in Science.
Optional items that could supplement this lesson:
- color wheel
- color paddles
- UV light
- infrared goggles
- various flowers
- digital camera equipped with infrared or UV filters