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Foldscope In The Elementary Classroom: Shadows!


What is a shadow?

Go outside and stand underneath a tree. Look up and observe the leaves. Do the leaves glow a bright green when light passes through them or do they look dark? Hold up some leaves above the ground. Can you see their shadows? Read on for a fun way to discover how a Foldscope Mini can help you understand shadows and light!!

Picture of a leaf viewed through a Foldscope Mini at 140X magnification plus 5X zoom
Figure 1. Picture of a leaf viewed through a Foldscope Mini at 140X magnification plus 5X zoom
(Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)


This activity focuses on three types of materials: transparent, translucent, and opaque. Some of these can form shadows and some cannot. Your Foldscope Mini will help you learn what these terms mean and how shadows form.

Picture of light shining through transparent, translucent, and opaque pieces of tape on a light box
Figure 2. Picture of light shining through transparent, translucent, and opaque pieces of tape on a light box
(Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)


While this activity can be done inside, the beauty of the Foldscope Mini is how easy it is to take outdoors! And allowing the students to collect their own samples to look at under their Foldscope gives them ownership of their learning. This creates a more authentic student led experience.

  • Materials:
    • Picture book about light and shadows
      • “I See A Shadow” by Laura Breen is a great one!
    • Science notebook
    • Pen/pencil
    • Foldscope Mini
    • Clear Stickers
    • Trading Cards
    • LED Light Modules
    • Three types of tape
      • Ultra Clear Tape (transparent)
      • Masking Tape (translucent)
      • Black Electrical Tape (opaque)
    • A variety of objects for students to look at under their Foldscope Minis
Picture of items on the materials list
Figure 3. Picture of items on the materials list
(Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)

  • Procedure:
  1. Read a picture book to the students about light and shadows to get them thinking about shadows.
  2. Divide the students into groups of 3 or 4.
  3. Give each group the three types of tape.
  4. Direct instruction:
    • Introduce the vocabulary words transparent, translucent, and opaque.
    • Explain to the groups that the clear tape is transparent, the scotch tape is translucent, and the electrical tape is opaque. Do this without directly telling the relationship between the object and light - the goal is to have the students discover this on their own during the activity.
    • Have the students hold the LED light module turned to the brightest setting (or a flashlight) above the different types of tape to see what kind of shadow each one makes on a page in their science notebook.
    • Have the students draw their observations in their science notebook and label their drawings “Transparent”, Translucent”, and “Opaque.”
  5. Exploration:
    • Show the studentshow to make a slide using the trading cards.
    • Show the studentshow to use the Foldscope Mini
    • Allow students time to practice making trading cards with the three types of tape and viewing them through the Foldscope Mini.
    • Explain to the students that they will be going outside to collect samples.
    • They will use their Foldscope Minis to determine if the sample is transparent, translucent, or opaque.
    • In their science notebooks they will draw what they see in their Foldscope Mini for each sample (tell them to label their drawings!).
    • The students will label the trading card with the sample name and the category of transparent, translucent, and opaque. (for example: Rock, Opaque)
  6. Analyze:
    • Sort the cards into 3 groups: Transparent, Translucent, and Opaque.
  7. Question and Reflection:
    • What colors did you see?
    • Did any sample surprise you?
    • Were there samples in more than one category?
    • What caused some objects to be opaque, forming a shadow in front of the lens of the Foldscope Mini?
  8. These questions should lead them to the conclusion that if an object blocks the light, it is opaque and makes a shadow.
Picture of children using the Foldscope Mini and collecting samples outdoors
Figure 4. Picture of children using the Foldscope Mini and collecting samples outdoors
(Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)

Encourage students to bring in objects from home. Have them predict if the object will be transparent, translucent, or opaque before they view it with the Foldscope Mini.

Real World Shadow Artist:

Vincent Bal is an artist who uses shadows to make art, but he does it in a surprising way. For example, do you think of an owl when you see a picture of an apple core? Well, Vincent Bal does!

Picture of Vincent Bal’s shadow art
Figure 5. Picture of Vincent Bal’s shadow art
(Photo Credit: Vincent Bal)


This blog ties together the three dimensional framework of the NGSS. It covers the Disciplinary Core Idea of Physical Science. Students will see the Crosscutting Concept of Cause and Effect. This activity is also a way for students to deepen their understanding of the Science and Engineering Practice of Plan and Carry Out Investigations.

Next Generation Science Standards Alignment

However, this exploratory activity can go beyond being just a science lesson!

  • Math: Create a graphical representation of the samples collected by making a histogram with the trading cards!
  • Art: Create your own shadow art by projecting the Foldscope Mini image on paper or a wall and drawing around it!


Share your observations, discoveries, pictures, and interdisciplinary extension activities with the Foldscope community. Submitting your Foldscope images related to the topic to the Microcosmos will help build up a strong scientific database that can help support new and innovative scientific research!