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Kaleidoscopes

In this activity, students construct their own kaleidoscope by making an enclosure with mirrors that reflect images of colourful objects such as beads and bits of paper contained inside.

Kaleidoscopes work on the principle of multiple reflections. The mirrors reflect the images of the beads inside, creating a symmetrical pattern.

Objectives

  • Describe how light rays can change direction.

  • Demonstrate how visible light is reflected.

Materials

  • Per Student:
    3 mirrors 4.5cm x 11 cm *can be purchased through craft/hobby stores
    2 elastic bands
    cellophane tape
    14 cm x 2–3cm strip card stock
    piece of plastic wrap, 10–15 cm square
    wax paper
    selection of colourful beads, sequins, sparkles or bits of shiny paper
    electrical tape

Key Questions

  • How many sequins did you put in?
  • How many can you see?

What To Do

  1. Assemble the three pre-cut mirrors with the reflective sides facing inward to form a triangular tube.

  1. Use elastic bands (or a friend) to hold the mirrors in place while you securely tape them together around the outside of the tube. Remove the elastic bands.
  2. Cover one end of the tube with plastic wrap, pulling it taut and taping it firmly around the perimeter of the tube.
  3. Wrap a strip of lightweight card stock around the same end of the tube, making sure it extends a few millimetres beyond the top. Secure it tightly with tape.
  4. Add colourful beads, sequins, sparkles, paper, etc. into the indentation you formed in step 4. Do not overfill. There should be room for the beads to tumble around.
  5. Cover it with a piece of wax paper and tape it securely onto the triangular tube.
  6. Turn the tube over, and create a safe eyepiece lining the edges of the mirror tube with electrical tape, or by totally covering the end in electrical tape and carefully opening up an eyehole with a pin.
  7. Cover the outside with colourful tape, wrapping paper or other decorations.
  8. ​Put your eye to the eyepiece and turn or shake the kaleidoscope to see the patterns created by the multiple reflections.


Teacher Tips:

  • This make and take takes time, especially for younger students. Ensure that you allow enough time for the students to both construct and experiment with their kaleidoscopes.
  • To help students see how to do each step before they make their own kaleidoscope, consider running though each of the steps as mini demos for the class to follow along.