Engineering a Kaleidoscope

Brief Description: Students will discuss light and mirrors, then design a kaleidoscope.

Students will learn about angles and reflected light

Grade: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Time: 1 hour

Mylar strips (can be bought here)
Recommended that the instructor cuts these
Cardboard/toilet paper tubes
Markers, stamps, glitter, stickers, or other decorative objects.

Lesson Plan:
1. Discuss Kaleidoscopes. How do students think they work?

  • Physics of a kaleidoscope:
  • Discuss angles. A circle is 360 degrees. When divided by 30, 60, 45, and 90, how many repetitions do you expect to see in the kaleidoscope?

2. In order to design a kaleidoscope, students must create four parts:

  • Internal reflective surface. Students will be using mylar strips. When lining up the mylar strips, make sure there is some space between them so they have enough space when folded into a triangle! Fold the mylar strips into a triangle that will fit inside the body.
  • The body, which will house the reflective mylar strips. The mylar strips may fit snugly, or may need to be taped in, depending on how the student designed the body.
  • The image/designs that will be reflected in the kaleidoscope. Have students draw something within a circle that will then be cut out. The circle should have a diameter of about twice that of the body. Punch a hole in the center of the circle.
    • Small random patterns and doodles work particularly well for kaleidoscopes.
  • A method to attach the design to the body and can be rotated to change.
    • In the example project, a straw is taped to the side of the body, and goes through the center hole of the circle image.

3. Have students experiment with their kaleidoscopes. Views from inside a kaleidoscope:

4. Wrap up. What images look best? What was the best method to attach it? What would students need to do to have more copies of the image reflected? Fewer? How could students design something that uses beads/glass like a real kaleidoscope?

Extensions and Modifications
Try it with beads! Can students design something that will hold beads in place (with enough movement to change the pattern), and allow light to enter?

Additional Information:

Tufts Student Teacher Outreach Mentorship Program • 200 Boston Ave. • Suite G810 • Medford, MA • 617-627-5888

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