kaleidescopes-1We began an investigation of kaleidoscopes, of seeing the world in a symphony of shapes and colors… Incredible!  We “caught light” and explored ideas of reflection. Each of us made a kaleidoscope from simple materials… and then, as Johnson once said, we each made one, old and magical.  We made discs, little circles of color and texture that revolved at the end of our creations, offering patterns and surprises as the images shifted and delighted the viewer.  It was easy to become mesmerized by the beauty… and the accompanying exclamations drew a circle of friends who smiled and shared the excitement.  “Let me see!”  The energy was contagious and resistance was futile!

Viewing our world through these magical mirrors was breath-taking  We took a walk and used our basic kaleidoscopes to experience the known neighborhood, re-seeing it as strange and wondrous.  Using a camera, we found we were able to freeze some images and then blow them up on the computer to look carefully in order to analyze shapes and relationships.

kaleidescopes-2We also wondered how this relates to the shapes and symmetry of snowflakes… and we used our architectural renderings of the local Victorian homes to create artistic interpretations of kaleidoscopic reflections.  We cut up some of our black-lined drawings, smacking small, equilateral triangles, and then glued them on paper, beginning with the interior hexagon.  While we know the result is not the precise drawing of what we would actually see if we looked at the houses through our kaleidoscopes, we were pleased with the illustration of the idea.  Two children wrote poetry that day as we sketched the older homes on NW Glisan Street. Their words caught the environmental sounds and images of that blustery morning.  They black-lined their words and cut them into equilateral triangles, repositioning the pieces to create a poetic visual interpretation of “reflection!”  Such powerful children!

How did this all come about?

Becoming part of a kaleidoscope?  Preposterous!!!  How could we possibly get inside such a strange little tube?  We looked inside to see how it was made, we are ready to dive in and see what was truly possible!  We wanted to experience what might happen if we inserted ourselves into the patterns and color of such an intriguing space where light and images are caught and reflected.  And isn’t that what the magical world of childhood is all about… possibility!!!

kaleidescopes-3Many of us were happy, at first, to simply make faces and silly gestures in the first mirror.  We enjoyed seeing our reflections, taking time to talk about the importance of the “opaque” qualities of a good mirror, and noticing that some reflections also appear in “translucent” and “transparent” glass as well.  The more transparent the glass, the more “ghostly” our appearance became as we tested and compared different types of glass.  We even introduced wavy, curved, and stippled glass to see how the reflected image changes and breaks up the crispness of the image with the scattering of reflective light.

Then a second mirror appeared and the questions rang out.  How does angling the mirrors in relationship to each other change what we can see?  What happens when reflected images are reflected?!  One at a time, each child was treated to the two-mirror reflection. What reverberated was a never-ending string of images.  How delightful to be six or seven years old and see so many images of yourself! And from different sides all at once!
kaleidescopes-4Then… the transformation… Just when infinity in one direction seemed enough, another element was introduced.
A third mirror arrived and the excitement was barely contained!  Slowly the trio was formed with the third panel, enclosing the space and trapping the child, light, and images!  Unreal!  Such a magical world!  Giggles, silence, gleeful exclamations.

From the top, the mirrors made a triangle shape, and within the contained space the mirror walls met at 60 degree angles.  And there was a child, gloriously trapped and bouncing with the bouncing light in the prism.  “There are a hundred of me!”  “How many can I count?”  “I can’t believe it.  There are too many of me! I never saw so many ANYthings!”  And simply, “Wow!”

Somewhere from the side of the room supplies were dragged to a long table and immediately the children began a chorus of “Can we make one?”

kaleidescopes-5It seemed that the first experience had hit the mark.  The children were enthralled.  Several children at a time helped fashion a rather prescribed kaleidoscope, laying three cut plexiglass pieces on very sticky electrical tape, an activity that drew its own exclamations!  The light was free to move about until the three strips were pulled together and folded the extra tape over to make a long tube with three sides.  “The light is caught inside and bounces from one surface to another with no escape!”

kaleidoscope, capture, surface, transparent, translucent, opaque, angle, parallel, prism, triangle, enclose, reflect…

The natural world and classroom environment was an incredible sight through our homemade kaleidoscopes.  Constant chatter was rich with explanation and description.  Sometimes the room would fall silent until the next “Ooooo, look at this one!”

kaleidescopes-6Next came our design work.  The children added movable tagboard spinners and experimented with different designs at the end of the kaleidoscopes.  Admittedly, it was sometimes tempting to peek through the “light-trap” before actually registering a guess about the effects the kaleidoscope would have on the pattern choices!
The children listed the kinds of designs that might be useful in their explorations. Then children returned to the chart to get new ideas as they exhausted original design plans.  These spinners, however were static and predictable.  Other words of kaleidoscopes we investigated introduced a surprising random element to the joy of kaleidoscope-gazing.  So they pressed onward.

concentric, diagonal, stripe, plaid, spiral, circle, swirl, column, diamond, squiggle, triangle, geometric, organic, predictable, static

kaleidescopes-7The children used two clear plastic lids, filling one with cut bits of ribbon, foil pieces, sequins, and other thin, colored morsels.  They carefully squeezed glue around the edges of the first lid and placed the second inside the first, snapping them together to seal in the contents.  They poked a hole through the center of the two lids and inserted a straw to make an axle around which the lid would rotate.

multiple, colorful, axle, rotate, symmetrical, pattern, design, random 

During the physical investigation of the kaleidoscopes, the group investigated the mathematical properties that  were inherent in making and exploring their own.  We noted our discoveries along the way and created displays that caught (reflected!) our thinking and construction processes in an expository writing, as well as our geometric prowess.  We certainly had challenges along the way so we applied our developing skills with a challenge chart and worked together to create interesting titles and introductions.  Our math work was written on isometric paper that seemed fitting, using lines that intersected at 60 degree angles!!!!

equilateral, isometric, degree, flip, slide, rotation, hexagon, tessellation

kaleidescopes-8A few key noticings by the children:

•Did you know that the image window is an equilateral triangle?
•The viewing triangle is joined by five other triangles to form a hexagon.
•An equilateral triangle has three equal sides and angles.
•Where two equilateral triangles interface, there is a line of symmetry in the shared image.
•If you create another triangle by extending the first with three more triangles, the extended shape is known as a Star of David.
•You can fill the spaces between the star points with double triangles and the pattern can expand to from another equilateral triangle, to a larger hexagon, and then to a bigger star!