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Project Playbook: Educator Edition

Gelatin Refraction

Investigate properties of light refraction using gelatin.



  1. Gelatin’s spring-like molecular structure swells in cold water and dissolves in hot water.
  2. Gelatin is a simple and effective way to keep hair, skin, nails, and teeth healthy.
  3. LASER is actually an acronym: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

❏ 1 box of gelatin
❏ Mirror
❏ Laser pointer
❏ Clear containers


  1. Prepare the gelatin and let it harden. Use a rectangular dish that is deep enough to make a tall cube.
  2. Remove the gelatin and place it on a flat surface.
  3. Turn off the lights and shine a laser pointer through the gelatin.
  4. Use the mirror to reflect the light back into the gelatin. How far does it reach?
  5. Measure the angles you can make.
  6. See how far into the gelatin mold you can shine the laser before the light dies away.

OBJECTIVE: Kids will be able to conduct scientific investigations to discover and describe properties of light and the effects objects have on light.


  • What effect do objects have on light?
  • Why is the sky blue?
  • What are rainbows?

Engage / Explore

  1. Put on a Two Bit Circus Foundation Magic Show for your friends and family using light refraction techniques!
    1. Together with your child, do a demonstration to make a piece of glass “disappear.” i.
      1. Materials:
        1. Large glass beaker
        2. Canola oil
        3. Small glass beaker—broken (be careful, edges are sharp!)
        4. Small glass beaker
        5. Tongs
      2. Place the canola oil in the large beaker (enough to cover the small beaker).
      3. Add the small glass beaker into the canola oil—you should notice that the beaker “disappears.”
      4. Put on your best magician character—you will turn a broken beaker into a new beaker!
        1. Tell your audience you will repair the beaker but not before they shout the magic word…..
        2. 1…. 2…. 3… place the broken beaker with tongs into the oil
        3. Quickly pull out the small beaker you put in before the show and accept your applause!

*The magic show works due to the index of refraction of canola oil and the glass. Both have approximately the same refractive index which means they refract (bend) light at similar angles. You cannot, therefore, perceive the differences in the two objects as light passes through them.

  1. Child plans and conducts an experiment on the properties of light and objects.
    1. Give child a variety of materials and a flashlight or other direct light source i
      1. Materials should include reflective, opaque, translucent, and transparent objects.
        1. Two Bit Circus Foundation has a variety of materials that may fit your needs
        2. Household items, cardboard, foil, wax paper, clear plastic also work.
    2. Ask child:
      1. “How might we design an experiment to determine the effects of different materials on light?”
      2. Allow child to generate and conduct their own test to determine the effects of light.
        1. Facilitate their design by asking questions that foster critical thinking and reflection.
        2. Child should make predictions for each object.
        3. Child should track their data in a chart
        4. Child should conclude that different objects have different effects on light.
          1. Opaque: light is blocked/cannot pass through an object
          2. Translucent: some light passes through the object
          3. Transparent: all light passes through the object
          4. Reflective: light bounces off the object
        5. They may not know these terms, however, they may reach the same conclusion (i.e. “light is blocked” “it goes through” “comes back”)


  1. Read a few children’s books on light
    1. Light: Shadows, Mirrors, and Rainbows, Natalie Myra Rosinsky
    2. Light Is All Around Us, Wendy Pfeffer
  2. Discuss the books with your child.
    1. Reflect back on the stories.
      1. Compare examples from the books with the experiment above.
      2. introduce language:
        1. Opaque, translucent, transparent, reflective
        2. Have your child identify real-world examples of each one.
    2. Use 3D color wheel activity as supporting material for light reflection.
  3. The Bill Nye The Science Guy episode, “Light”” is helpful to review concepts about light


  1. Explore with your child:
    1. Why is the sky blue? And what are rainbows?
    2. Child should attempt to make arguments to answer these questions based on experiments and prior learning.

Educational Standards

1-PS4-3. Plan and conduct investigations to determine the effect of placing objects made with different materials in the path of a beam of light.


W.1.8 With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.

SL.1.1 Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 1 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.

Level 2: Concept
Level 3: Strategic Thinking