Teacher Guide

Glow in the Dark

Energy levels of the rainbow

This resource was originally published in PhysicsQuest 2009: Power!

This is the teacher guide for this lesson. A student-focused guide to assist learners as they perform the activity is available.

View the student guide: Glow in the Dark

What colors of light cause a glow in the dark square to glow?

  • Phosphorescent vinyl
  • Red, blue, orange and purple gel filters
  • Laser pointer
  • Dark room
  • White light
  • (Optional): glow in the dark stars, glow in the materials

Students start by discussing what they already know about glow in the dark to build background knowledge. In the experiment, students will use filters of color to gather data and explain “What colors of light cause a glow in the dark square to glow?

  • Total time
    45 - 60 Minutes
  • Education level
    Grades 5 - 9
  • Content Area
  • Educational topic
    Light waves
Key terms

These are the key terms that students should know by the END of the two lessons. They do not need to be front loaded. In fact, studies show that presenting key terms to students before the lesson may not be as effective as having students observe and witness the phenomenon the key terms illustrate beforehand and learn the formalized words afterwards. For this reason, we recommend allowing students to grapple with the experiments without knowing these words and then exposing them to the formalized definitions afterwards in the context of what they learned.

However, if these words are helpful for students on an IEP, ELL students, or anyone else that may need more support, please use at your discretion.

  • Wavelengths: The distance from one wave peak to the next.
  • Intensity: The strength of something. Ex: brighter light has more intensity.
  • Students will experiment with glow in the dark to order the energy levels of color.

Before the Experiment
Ask & Discuss
  • What are some items you know that glow in the dark?
    1. What do you know about how glow in the dark stars (or other objects) work?
    2. After students share their ideas, first with a partner, then with the class, have them write an answer in their student guides.
    3. Tell students that the experiment they are about to do will help them understand how glow in the dark works.
Setting Up
  • Support students getting all materials ready to use.

During the Experiment
Collecting Data
  • Make sure students are put into intentional groups

    Make sure students are put into intentional groups.

  • Students will complete the experiment using the Student Guide

    Students will complete the experiment using the Student Guide where we have outlined the experiment for students and along the way, they record results and answer questions.

Analyzing Data
  • In the student guide, they will look at their data to describe which filters allowed each color through.

  • Continue to listen in on each group’s discussion, answer as few questions as possible. Even if a group is off a little, they will have a chance to work out these stuck points later.

Teacher Tips
  • STEP UP Everyday Actions

    Suggested STEP UP Everyday Actions to incorporate into activity

    • When pairing students, try to have male/female partners and invite female students to share their ideas first
    • As you put students into groups, consider having female or minority students take the leadership role.
    • Take note of female participation. If they seem to be taking direction and following along, elevate their voice by asking them a question about their experiment.
  • Consider using white boards

    Consider using white boards so students have time to work through their ideas and brainstorms before saying them out loud.

  • Roam around the room

    As students experiment, roam around the room to listen in on discussion and notice experiment techniques. If needed, stop the class and call over to a certain group that has hit on an important concept.

  • RIP protocol

    Consider using the RIP protocol (Research, Instruct, Plan) for lab group visits and conferring.

  • Culturally responsive tools and strategies

    Consider culturally responsive tools and strategies and/or open ended reflection questions to help push student thinking, evidence tracking, and connections to their lives.

  • 4 quadrants protocol

    Try the 4 quadrants protocol to support students exploring the questions in the student guide.

    1. Have each group create an answer to this phenomenon.
    2. Have a student from each small group or table read the four (or so, depending on your class size) statements aloud and place the paper with the statements on it in the middle of the table.
    3. Going in turn, have each student state which of the four statements they most agree with and why.
    4. No one may interrupt whichever student is speaking.
    5. When the speaker is finished, he or she places a BINGO chip on the statement they most agree with.
    6. Going in turn, each of the other three team members states their beliefs and places a BINGO chip.
    7. As a whole room, tally how many chips there are for each statement and ask students to clarify their thinking to each other. Use talk moves from Michaels and O’Connor’s Talk Science Primer to ask students to elaborate and clarify their thinking. If needed, each student can write his or her ideas at the end of class in their science journal.
  • Clarify and give concise definitions

    After students have had a chance to discuss key ideas from the lesson, you can now clarify and give concise definitions to the forces they experimented with.

Real world connections

  • Using what you learned about energy levels and by conducting some research, explain how animals such as fireflies glow?
    • Bioluminescence (National Geographic)
    • How does nanoscale chemistry make fireflies glow brightly? (Sustainable Nano)

Suggestions for drawing, illustrating, presenting content in creative ways

  • Highlighter Fluorescence: Have students draw designs on an index card using different colored highlighters and shine different colored lasers onto the drawing. Observe the “glow” of the different highlighter and laser color combinations. (Pink, yellow, and orange highlighter and blue lasers usually work the best)

Engineering and design challenges connected to the content

  • In this experiment we used visible light to understand why things glow. Design an experiment using blacklight, a type of UV light, to explore how objects such as food and drink fluoresce in this type of light. (Ex of things to test: tonic water, cooking oil etc.)
  • MS-PS4-1
    Use mathematical representations to describe a simple model for waves that includes how the amplitude of a wave is related to the energy in a wave.
  • MS-PS4-2
    Develop and use a model to describe how waves are reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through various materials.
  • MS-PS4-3
    Integrate qualitative scientific and technical information to support the claim that digitized signals are a more reliable way to encode and transmit information than analog signals.


Coordinated, Researched and Written by: Rebecca Thompson-Flagg

Art Direction and Illustrations by Kerry G. Johnson

Created in collaboration with LaserFest 2010

Updated in 2023 by Sierra Crandell, M.Ed. partially funded by Eucalyptus Foundation

Extension by Jenna Tempkin with Society of Physics Students (SPS)

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