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In Context #16 (Fall, 2006, pp. 3-4); copyright 2006 by The Nature Institute

Light and Objects
Martin Wagenschein

An Entry to Optics

This short essay is about nothing other than physics, or, if you will, an entryway to physics. Such an entry is, however, important because it isn't "just an entryway." As a preliminary stage to physics it is as important as the root is to the tree. We usually tend to forget this stage in our teaching. We must pass through this entryway and experience it both silently and as a preliminary form of thinking. Only then will we be able to understand the pressed and dried forms that comprise the herbarium of a textbook. (Where one finds phrases such as "Light is produced by rays emanating from bodies. We distinguish between light sources and dark bodies, which only become visible..." and so forth.) Passing through the entryway allows us to derive these abstracted formulations in a way that illuminates the experiential elements they contain.

It is very easy to make space for this step in teaching. You prepare the situation: a dark room, an illuminating projector, and dust. The group of children will eagerly throng around this miracle - and then do not speak, let the children speak. They will experience something like what is described in the section below. Afterwards, their experiences can easily be brought into a certain order and - with the teacher as catalyzer - crystallized. When the children then proce