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Using Media to Explore Light and Optics

As educators, we ask our students to take the information we provide in the classroom and use it to interpret their world. However, it is important to realize that the topics we cover are also incurred by students in newspapers, magazines, on radio or on television, as well as online via the Internet. Moreover, young people are often heavily targeted by various media due to their buying power, which is substantial. In fact, according to Consumer's Union, young people from ages 6 to 12 spend nearly $11 billion annually, and children 13 to 17 spend $57 billion of their own money and about $36 billion of their parents' money.

Thus, it is imperative for children to have some understanding about the media and how the information that we receive about the world is filtered to us through the media. Helping students analyze, evaluate, and interpret the messages to which they are constantly exposed decreases levels of misinterpretation and misunderstanding. Therefore, this activity provides you and your students with some basic information about news reports and advertisements, some suggested strategies for incorporating newspapers and magazines into the science classroom, and ways to integrate the skills used to analyze and interpret messages into other subject areas.

How you use the activity will of course depend on the level of your students, but even the youngest students can benefit from discussing how to interpret the great variety of messages to which they are exposed. Also, we would like to acknowledge that some information and suggestions presented here were found in Mastering the Message and Messages and Meanings, publications sponsored by the Newspaper Association of America Foundation, as well as "Using the Newspaper in Secondary Science," by Dr. John Guenther and Dr. William LaShier, The University of Kansas.

Required Materials

  • Science notebooks
  • Newspapers, magazines, and advertisements
  • Supplies for creating presentations

What will the students do?

Students should actively participate in a discussion regarding the media and its influence. Make sure that the following key points are touched upon.

News Reports are reports, columns, and features found in newspapers that inform, entertain, and persuade. Students cannot, of course, control the content or the tone of news reports, so they need strategies to help them analyze and interpret what they read and hear. The three main types of news reports are described below.

Informational News Reports - Address the 5 W's and the H (who, what, where, when, why, and how), present interesting details in an organized way, identify sources, support the main idea with quotes and information, include commonly-used words to help explain technical or subject-specific terms, and utilize a consistent style.

Articles Written for Entertainment - Address a specific audience, support the main idea in an interesting or entertaining way, use entertaining vocabulary, present an organized piece of writing in a creative way, and present unusual stories or information.

Articles Written to Persuade - Capture the reader's attention by using persuasive words, identify a specific topic, opinion, theory or idea, include strong arguments, combine facts with personal opinion, and present a well-organized sequence of ideas.

News reports differ from advertisements, although advertising uses persuasive writing in ways that sometimes makes us think they are really news reports. Children need to be aware of the fact that an advertisement is always there to convince them to buy something.

Advertisements - Capture your attention by presenting a product in a desirable way, present information, encourage you to take action, and make you feel positive about a specific product or activity.

Following discussion, students should complete one or more of the suggested activity extensions or one of the alternate activities provided on the student page. It is important to note that some activities are best suited to individual work and others, for example creating a public relations campaign, are better suited to collaborative group work. Also, the student page gives students several choices so that issues of not receiving newspapers or magazines, or not having a television at home will not dictate the way you use these activities, nor will it exclude students for those reasons.

Activity Extensions

Research - Have students identify and investigate people who have had an influence on mass media or people who either invented an optical device or developed a technique or theory that relates to light and optics. Then, students can look at how mass media would have affected the development and marketing of that device. For example, when Galileo built and tested his telescope, only men of science or those of great wealth could own an instrument like that. Also, his discoveries and observations led to a controversial way of viewing our world. Ask students to consider how newspapers might have presented Galileo's findings and how it would affect the public acceptance or rejection of his ideas.

Writing - Students should create their own light and optics newspaper or magazine that explains some of the major concepts in this unit. For example, a headline might read, Scientist Discovers How Rainbows are Formed! The story that follows would include the students' explanation of how water droplets act like prisms and separate the colors of sunlight.

Art - Have students create a cartoon that represents one of the concepts they have learned about in studying light and optics. The cartoon could be a cartoon strip, a comic book, or single frame (like Dennis the Menace). You may wish to have the students exchange cartoons or have an exhibition of work that is viewed by all. Encourage students to explain how they created their cartoon and why they chose what concept to represent.

Current Issues - Students should identify an issue related to one of the activities (for example, moving lighthouses that are in danger of falling into the ocean because of coastline erosion) and learn more about it, report it to their classmates, and discuss how it relates to the study of light and optics. Along with reporting the facts, students should identify why it is a newsworthy event or issue.

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