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Make Your Own Kaleidoscope

What is the light theory that allows you to see yourself in the mirror? Reflection! Discover how reflection works by building your own kaleidoscope with this fun activity.

Materials

  • Empty Pringles can or tissue paper roll
  • Mylar sheets or aluminum foil
  • Cardstock (if using aluminum foil)
  • Straw
  • Glue
  • Can opener
  • Scissors
  • Sharp pencil
  • Cardstock
  • Markers, stickers, crayons, glitter (to decorate the cardstock)

Procedure

Part A: Setting Up The Base

  1. Cut three mylar strips into equal sizes (a good approximation for the size is 9 cm x 3 cm). Line up the mylar strips and leave a small space between each one. Tape the three sheets together over the spaces. Fold the three mylar sheets into a triangular prism and tape along the top. This will go inside your Pringles can (the base) and it represents the “mirrors” that will help reflect objects that you can see with your eye. If you are using aluminum foil instead, cut three equal sized pieces of cardstock (9cm x 3cm), then cut six sheets of aluminum foil the same size as the cardstock. Use glue to attach the aluminum foil on the three cardstock rectangles, making sure to cover both sides of each piece of cardstock with aluminum foil. Follow the same steps above for the mylar strips to make the triangular prism.
  2. Cut a 3cm piece of the straw. This will be used to hold the cardstock in place. Tape the straw on the top surface of the Pringles can and leave the end of the straw to hang.

Part B: Decorating the Cardstock

  1. Cut out circles from the cardstock. They should be around 10cm in diameter. With a parent’s help, poke a hole in the center of the cardstock with a sharp pencil. The hole needs to be big enough for the straw to fit through the hole. STEM Q for You: What does diameter mean? Diameter describes the length of a straight line passing from side to side through the center of a circle or sphere. 
  2. Now it is time to decorate your circle! Use markers, glitter, crayons, stickers, and anything else you would like to decorate your circle! This will represent the “objects” that you will observe through the kaleidoscope.
  3. The top end of the Pringles can (with the lid) is where you will look inside the can. The other end of the can needs to be removed with a can opener (with parental assistance). Once you remove the bottom, attach your cardstock to the Pringles can by placing the straw through the hole in the middle of the cardstock.
  4. Make a prediction! When you look inside the Pringles can, what will you see? Try it out! Look through the can. STEM Q for You: What happens when you rotate the kaleidoscope you created? As the kaleidoscope rotates, the objects shift their position and since these are reflected by the mirrors, new patterns are seen!

The STEM Behind The Fun

What is reflection of light? Reflection is when light bounces off an object. If the surface is smooth and shiny, like your mirror in your bathroom, the light reflects at the same angle as it hit the surface. That’s why you see yourself in the mirror exactly how you look.

How do kaleidoscopes act like a mirror? A kaleidoscope uses light and mirrors to reflect objects and creates repeated patterns. Your eyes observe the patterns or designs created on the other end and the mirrors reflect the patterns that are seen. The reflections bounce off one another as light passes through the tube. You then observe these “bouncing” reflections, which creates the patterns. 

What happens if you place an object between two mirrors that are inclined at right angles (angles that are 90 degrees)? An image is formed in each mirror. How? Each of the mirror images is in turn reflected in the other mirror, which forms the same repeated pattern on both of the mirrors. Pretty awesome!

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