Collection Modelling light with ray diagrams - Teaching approaches

  1. A ray diagram for a shadow
  2. A ray diagram for a pinhole camera
Ray Diagrams
Light, Sound and Waves

Modelling light with ray diagrams - Teaching approaches

Classroom Activity for 11-14

A Teaching Approach is both a source of advice and an activity that respects both the physics narrative and the teaching and learning issues for a topic.

The following set of resources is not an exhaustive selection, rather it seeks to exemplify. In general there are already many activities available online; you'll want to select from these wisely, and to assemble and evolve your own repertoire that is matched to the needs of your class and the equipment/resources to hand. We hope that the collection here will enable you to think about your own selection process, considering both the physics narrative and the topic-specific teaching and learning issues.

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A ray diagram for a shadow

Ray Diagrams
Light, Sound and Waves

A ray diagram for a shadow

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

Explaining shadows with ray diagrams.

In this activity the teacher talks through the construction of a simple ray diagram for the formation of a shadow, making clear all of the conventions and other thinking behind it.

What to Prepare

  • a bright light source (use some kind of point source (where the light comes from a relatively small aperture) to produce a well-defined shadow on a screen.)
  • a table tennis ball (or some other smooth-surfaced ball) hung from a piece of cotton (super-glue the cotton to the ball)
  • the interactive resource, enlarged on a screen or interactive white board (see below)

What Happens During this Activity

The interactive diagram provides a focus for the attention of the whole class. Your job here is to talk through each of the steps of constructing the ray diagram, engaging the pupils in discussion as you proceed.

First, hang the ball from a metre rule and hold it in the beam of light between the light source and the screen. With a good black-out for the room and a strong point source of light, a striking shadow will be produced on the screen.

Constructing a ray diagram

Demonstrate the shadow to the class and pose the key question:

Teacher: How can we draw a diagram to show how the shadow is formed on the screen?

Now turn the class's attention to the screen. Here is a possible commentary to go alongside whole class use of the animation.

Teacher: [Screen 1] We have a light source here which emits light in all directions.

Teacher: [Screens 2 and 3] Putting a shade over the light makes a beam. Some of the wall is lit, and some not.

Teacher: [Screens 4, 5 and 6] Drawing in special paths the light follows helps to predict which bits will be lit, and which not. These chosen paths are called rays. Every ray that you draw must be shown as a straight line and must have an arrow to indicate the direction in which the light is travelling.

Teacher: [Screen 7] So, now we place the ball in front of the projector … choosing rays carefully, to make predictions as we alter the size of the ball and move the ball.

Teacher: How can we use this diagram to show exactly where the shadow will be formed on the screen?

Teacher: OK, so take the ray of light which is just passing over the top of the ball and the ray which is just passing under the ball.

Teacher: OK, let's try moving the light source backwards and forwards. What do you think will happen to the size of the shadow?

Teacher: What about changing the size of the ball?

Teacher: Now let's think about moving the ball up and down.

Teacher: [Screen 8] Here we can see the beams predicted by the ray diagram.

You might want to switch back and forth between screens 7 and 8, altering the predictions on screen 7 and then seeing how they work out on screen 8.

Resources

Download the software for this activity.

Up next

A ray diagram for a pinhole camera

Ray Diagrams
Light, Sound and Waves

A ray diagram for a pinhole camera

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

Representing a pinhole camera.

The following animation follows a step-by-step approach to constructing a ray diagram for the formation of an image by a pinhole camera.

What to Prepare

  • the interactive, enlarged on a screen or interactive white board (see below)

What Happens During this Activity

The interactive diagram provides a focus for the attention of the whole class. Your job here is to talk through each of the steps of constructing the ray diagram, engaging the pupils in discussion as you proceed.

First, the pupils explore the formation of images using a pinhole camera with one, three and many pinholes.

Talking through the ray diagram

The key question is:

Teacher: How can we draw a diagram to show how the various images are formed on the screen?

Now turn the class's attention to the animation on the white board.

Teacher: [Screen 1] We have a light source here which is sending out light in all directions. Concentrate on two parts (one luminous, one not, as it happens). You can predict where the light will end up by using rays.

Teacher: [Screen 2] Suppose we place a pinhole camera in front of the light source. Choose to draw rays that go through the pinhole.

Teacher: [Screen 3] Now then, what will we see on the screen, with the candle placed there in front of the camera?

Teacher: How could we use this diagram to show exactly where the image of the candle flame will be formed on the screen?

Teacher: OK, so take the ray of light that is leaving the top of the filament and passing directly in the direction of the pinhole, is this the only ray of light leaving the top of the filament? No, of course not, rays are being sent out in all directions. We just pick out this particular one because it travels through the pinhole and hits the screen.

Teacher: Now pick out the ray that is leaving the bottom of the candle and passing through the pinhole. So where will the image be formed on the screen? That's right, between the two rays drawn in.

Teacher: And what does the ray diagram tell us about the image?

Teacher: Yes, that's right, the image is upside down or inverted. The rays from the top of the filament land up at the bottom of the image and the rays from the bottom of the filament end up at the top of the image.

Teacher: [Screen 4]Suppose the camera is moved away from the candle. What do you think will happen to the size of the image? And if it is moved closer? How about changing the size of the candle?

Teacher: How could we develop this ray diagram to show what happens with three pinholes?

Resources

Download the software for this activity.

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