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Students explore how light can be reflected and bent in order to see objects.

Big Idea

Students create kaleidoscopes to explore light energy and how it can be bent and reflected to see shapes.


20 minutes

It takes a bit of time to prepare for this lesson, but it is totally worth the work! Students supplied their own Pringles cans and brought them in a little over a week before. I had sent a note home to parents asking that they provide them. You will need to drill the holes, cut and tape down the mylar paper, cut and spray glue the wax or tissue paper to the inside of the lid, and get the outer wrapping paper cut and ready for the students, all ahead of time. Plan on a little over an hour of work to be prepared. I don't recommend this lesson be taught to more than 25 kids at a time. Even if there is classroom help, the energy levels would be too high for them to fully enjoy it if there are too many children at once.


  • Pringles cans with the lids. Drill a 1/4" hole in the center of the metal end. This is the eyepiece and students should be warned that the metal is sharp. A drill works better than a punch.

  • Wax  or white tissue paper cut in rounds the size of the end of the plastic lid to diffuse the light. Glue this into the lid.

  • Spray glue and tape.

  • Multicolored iridescent beads, use either stick on (more expensive)  or buy regular beads and tack on with LARGE sticky scrapbooker dots. Place beads in a small cup for each student.

  • Mylar  silver tissue paper cut 9 1/4" the perimeter of the can and tape it to a piece of copy paper. Then cut to the edge of the Mylar, leaving a thin piece of tape to keep the mylar taped to it. This gives the tissue paper a little body.  (Don't cut it all off, but you don't want any of the white paper to show either.) You can use shiny scrap book paper that is more rigid, but it is also much more expensive.

  • Pretty shiny wrapping paper cut in pieces so can be used to coat the outside of the can


Engage: I held up my kaleidoscope I had made a long time ago that students have had access to for play and asked them if they were ready to build one! Because they had brought in their Pringles cans, they had been anticipating this day for awhile, but had no idea that it would be about science!

My student "classroom manager" passed out a KLEWS chart to each student as I drew a KLEWS chart on the board. I asked my students, "What do you think you know about kaleidoscopes?"

We listed in the "K" section, a few things about how they were toys, they are colorful, they are fun. Very non- scientific things were being shared. I moved over to the "S" end of the chart and mentioned that there is scientific phenomena that we needed to discover about kaleidoscopes and that this section would be filled out after they had explored making one and using it.

I then wrote the Driving Question on the whiteboard: How Does Light Reflect in this Model So We Are Able to See?

To help prod some science thinking prior to working on the scopes, I said, "What have you learned about light that might apply to using a kaleidoscope?"

Other ideas suddenly emerged and I was hearing them talk about reflection and seeing. They said that the eye has to "see" in order for us to enjoy it. There was more to learn, so I explained that I would first model exactly how it would be constructed.

The excitement was already starting to be a little "nutsy", so I knew I needed to reign in the energy. I asked them to come and sit by the SB and watch a clip that I knew would help settle the mood down. This video offers a few minutes of creative understanding of light/color patterns.  It is called Abandoned Kaleidoscopes by Charmaine Zoe with music by Andrew Scot Faust and is very soothing. They sat and enjoyed it for a few minutes while I quickly prepared my area for demonstration. 


35 minutes

When the time was right, I gathered my students around me and showed them step by step how I expected them to put together their kaleidoscope. I had all materials ready for them prior to the lesson.

Since I was using the regular beads, I showed them exactly how to peel the dots from the paper and press them into the cap of the Pringles can. At first, I was putting the beads on the strip of glue dots. However, as I worked, I realized it is truly easier to put the dots on the lid first and then put the beads on the glue dot. What would be easiest are the more expensive sticky beads. Hot glue would take forever. 

After I got my lid all set with pretty beads, I taped the wrapping paper on the outside of the can.  I then rolled the mylar paper gently into a tube and popped it into the can. It spread out and I did not tape it down. (Be sure that the mylar paper is just below the top so that when you turn the lid, it doesn't pull the paper with it.) And that was it! I didn't let them look into my kaleidoscope because I told them I wanted them to enjoy looking through their own first. I asked them if they thought it was a toy that needed to be handled gently? They agreed! If beads drop off into the can, just leave them so the Mylar isn't disturbed. We discovered that sticking some beads onto the Mylar near the top of the inside of the can adds to it. It was time to move and get busy! For more visual instructions, this video is quite nice!

Materials were laid out and students were able to dip small cups into a bucket of beads. They gathered the rest of the papers and their cans and began gluing on beads. Some organized them in color schemes and got quite creative. They enjoyed showing me their beaded lids. I roved about the room and the video played, music and visual doing its job of keeping the mood calm. As this creative construction was going on, I actually had to help very little. They were getting the beads pressed onto their lids quite easily and the paper rolled up and popped into the cans. They were showing me how excited they were with enthusiastic "Oh cools!" and "AWESOMES!", as they gave me their kaleidoscope to look through.  I knew at this point that it was coming together for them, so it was time for me to push some science ideas.

I suddenly realized that before that could happen, they all needed to take time to play, and I realized it as one by one shared their kaleidoscopes with each other, looking into them and appreciating the beauty. It was simply joy.  All that preparation was worth this moment. 

Wrap Up

10 minutes

As the energy levels calmed down and all had had a chance to share their creations with each other, I asked them if they thought that they could use another day to investigate further? They were excited to know that they would be learning more tomorrow. I told them to put away all of their materials, return un used beads and clean up. I also told them to be sure and store their kaleidoscopes so that the lid was on the desk and the eyepiece was toward the ceiling. This would prevent beads from falling off in case the glue needed to cure. 

We simply closed by me telling them that we would pick up on filling in our KLEWS chart more tomorrow!