Curricular Unit: Laser Light Properties: Protecting the Mummified Troll!

Quick Look

Grade Level: 7 (6-8)

Choose From: 4 lessons and 4 activities

Subject Areas: Physics, Science and Technology

Photo shows a bronzed troll doll with bubble captions: "Protect me, please???" and "and learn about light and lasers!"
Students must use light properties to protect the troll
Copyright © Terry Carter. Used with permission.


Students learn and use the properties of light to solve the following challenge: "A mummified troll was discovered this summer at our school and it has generated lots of interest worldwide. The principal asked us, the technology classes, to design a security system that alerts the police if someone tries to pilfer our prized possession. How can we construct a system that allows visitors to view our artifact during the day, but invisibly protects it at night in a cost-effective way?"
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Laser technology was developed by physicists as a means of controlling and manipulating high-energy release. The technology makes use of concepts within electromagnetic radiation whose forces can often be very dangerous yet advantageous in their application. Biomedical engineers develop uses for lasers in optical imaging and bloodless surgery. Mechanical engineers utilize lasers for accuracy and precision in cutting and welding. Like engineers, students are asked to apply their understanding of scientific light and laser properties to address a real-world challenge—designing and building an invisible security system that is safe to both users and intruders.

Unit Overview

This four-lesson "legacy cycle" unit for middle school, science and technology classes is structured with a contextually-based Grand Challenge followed by a sequence of instruction in which students first offer initial predictions (Generate Ideas) and then gather information from multiple sources (Multiple Perspectives). This is followed by Research and Revise as students integrate and extend their knowledge through a variety of learning activities. The cycle concludes with formative (Test Your Mettle) and summative (Go Public) assessments that lead students towards answering the Challenge question. See below for the progression of the legacy cycle through the unit. Research and ideas behind this way of learning may be found in How People Learn, (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, National Academy Press, 2000); see the entire text at

The "legacy cycle" is similar to the "engineering design process" in that they both involve identifying an existing societal need, combining science and math to develop solutions, and using the research conclusions to design a clear, conceived solution to the original challenge. Though the engineering design process and the legacy cycle depend on correct and accurate solutions, each focuses particularly on how the solution is devised and presented. See an overview of the engineering design process at

In lesson 1, students are prompted to answer a Grand Challenge (see the Summary section). They begin by Generating Ideas in the associated activity, and answering questions such as, "What background knowledge is needed?" and "What do you know about security systems already?" Students then enter the Multiple Perspectives phase of the legacy cycle by watching a clip from the Discovery Channel's Mythbuster's Crimes and Myth-Demeanors episode.

In lesson 2, students enter the Research and Revise step focusing on the properties of light. After an introduction to the electromagnetic spectrum, they focus on the properties of visible light with respect to both the particle theory and wave theory. Students also develop an understanding of constructive and destructive waves as well as reflection and refraction. In the associated activity, they explore reflection, absorption and transmission with respect to everyday objects. In addition, students explore refraction by creating a rainbow in the classroom.

During lesson 3, students continue in the Research and Revise phase of the legacy cycle for further learning. They focus on how a laser functions and how light properties enable this device. In an associated activity, students research the types of lasers and present their findings to the class. After this lesson, students possess the knowledge required to solve the challenge question.

Lesson 4 includes an associated activity in which students enter the Test Your Mettle phase of the legacy cycle as well as in-class time to prepare the final Go Public presentation. Just prior to going public with their solution, students build a model system replicating the design they believe to be the best. This design, as well as individual assessment questions, tests their understanding of the laser light properties. To conclude, student teams make informative class presentations on their final security system designs. These presentations test students' abilities to apply the properties of light that they have studied throughout the unit.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

MS-PS4-2. Develop and use a model to describe that waves are reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through various materials. (Grades 6 - 8)

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This unit focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Develop and use a model to describe phenomena.

Alignment agreement:

A sound wave needs a medium through which it is transmitted.

Alignment agreement:

When light shines on an object, it is reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through the object, depending on the object's material and the frequency (color) of the light.

Alignment agreement:

The path that light travels can be traced as straight lines, except at surfaces between different transparent materials (e.g., air and water, air and glass) where the light path bends.

Alignment agreement:

A wave model of light is useful for explaining brightness, color, and the frequency-dependent bending of light at a surface between media.

Alignment agreement:

However, because light can travel through space, it cannot be a matter wave, like sound or water waves.

Alignment agreement:

Structures can be designed to serve particular functions by taking into account properties of different materials, and how materials can be shaped and used.

Alignment agreement:

NGSS Performance Expectation

MS-ETS1-2. Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 6 - 8)

Do you agree with this alignment?

Click to view other curriculum aligned to this Performance Expectation
This unit focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Evaluate competing design solutions based on jointly developed and agreed-upon design criteria.

Alignment agreement:

There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem.

Alignment agreement:

Suggest an alignment not listed above

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Unit Schedule


Lesson 4 includes the final Go Public phase of the legacy cycle in which students are prompted to apply the concepts they have learned to answer the Grand Challenge question. In this phase, students relate the learned concepts on light properties to designing a laser security system, which serves as a cumulative assessment covering the previous three lessons.

Other Related Information

This unit also meets the following Tennessee Foundations of Technology educational technology content standards: 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0, 6.0, 7.0 and 8.0.

This unit also meets the following National Science Education Standards (NSES) teaching standards: A, B, C, D, E, F; see


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2008 Vanderbilt University


Terry Carter; Meghan Murphy

Supporting Program

VU Bioengineering RET Program, School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University


The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under National Science Foundation RET grant nos. 0338092 and 0742871. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: February 13, 2020


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