Infrared Lesson Plans

For more lesson plans across many different astronomy and science standards, see NASA Wavelength - NASA's central repository of all peer-reviewed and field-tested educator resources. From the NASA Wavelength site:

"NASA Wavelength is your pathway into a digital collection of Earth and space science resources for educators of all levels – from elementary to college, to out-of-school programs. These resources, developed through funding of the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD), have undergone a peer-review process through which educators and scientists ensure the content is accurate and useful in an educational setting. Use NASA Wavelength to quickly and easily locate resources, connect them to other websites using atom feeds, and even share the resources you discover with others through social media and email." 

A selection of infrared-specific lesson plans are linked below. 

The Herschel Experiment

Perform a version of the experiment of 1800, in which a form of radiation other than visible light was discovered by the famous astronomer Sir Frederick William Herschel. Can be adapted for all grade levels.

Exploring Infrared Image Technology (NASA Wavelength)

In this introductory activity, learners investigate and discuss infrared images of various everyday objects, such as toasters, hairdryers, and running water, to learn about infrared imaging. Student questions about the false-color images help guide a discussion about what they are, how they are different from visible light images, and the information that such images contain. This is an introductory activity for both the Infrared Zoo and Infrared Yellowstone lessons. Can be adapted for all grade levels. 

The Invisible Yellowstone Park (NASA Wavelength)

In this multi-day activity, students use observation skills to determine what information can be gathered from images taken in both visible and infrared light. Students compare the visible and infrared light images. As a result, students discover that the relative temperature of water from a geyser, as well as the nearby landscape, is revealed in the infrared images. The is Lesson 1 of the Infrared Yellowstone series. Grades 5-8

A Trip to the Infrared Zoo (NASA Wavelength)

In this multi-day activity, students use infrared and visible images of animals and sort them into broad categories based upon the learner's own reasoning and observations of the images. Further explorations reveal that warm and cold-blooded animals can be identified and characterized using infrared images. This is Lesson 1 on the Infrared Zoo. Grades 5-8

Dinner in the Dark (NASA Wavelength)

In this lesson, learners will discover how certain snakes (pit-vipers) can find prey using a natural infrared sensor and will extend their understandings by exploring infrared technology applications. This is Lesson 2 on the Infrared Zoo. Grades 5-9

The Invisible Zoo (NASA Wavelength)

In this activity, students explore the Cool Cosmos Infrared Zoo database and investigate the differences between warm and cold-blooded animals. As a result, students discover how infrared imagery provides biologists/zoologists detailed information on how warm-blooded and cold-blooded animals thermoregulate. This is Lesson 3 of the Infrared Zoo. Grades 9-12

Moving Molecules - The Kinetic Molecular Theory of Heat

Students determine the relationship between temperature and speed of molecules in a liquid. Grades 6-9, Physical Science.

Temperature and the Rate of Chemical Reactions

Students investigate the effects of temperature on chemical reactions using glow sticks. This activity can be used as an introduction to atomic spectra, the Bohr model of the atom, and electron energy levels. Grades 6-9, Physical Science.

Patterns and Fingerprints (NASA Wavelength)

This is an activity about detecting elements by using light. Learners will develop and apply methods to identify and interpret patterns to the identification of fingerprints. They look at fingerprints of their classmates, snowflakes, and finally “spectral fingerprints” of elements. They learn to identify each image as unique, yet part of a group containing recognizable similarities. Grades 6-12

Sensing the Invisible (NASA Wavelength)

In this activity, students build a photocell detector, and use it to detect different colors of light in a spectrum. Then they place the detector just outside the red region of the visible light spectrum and see that the detector detects the presence of light there, even though there is no color visible. Students learn that invisible light exists and that we can detect this light with instruments other than our eyes. In a final part of the activity, students investigate the infrared signals emitted by TV and VCR remote controls. Grades 7-8

What's Getting Through to You? (NASA Wavelength)

In this activity, students are introduced to light and colored gels (filters). Students make and test predictions about light and color using gels; learn about the importance of gels (filters) to astronomers; then analyze images taken with regular and infrared cameras to see that objects opaque to light at one wavelength, may be transparent to light of a different wavelength. Grades 7-8

What's Hot in Yellowstone National Park? (NASA Wavelength)

In this activity, learners discover new perspectives on geothermal features, such as geysers, mudpots, hot springs, and hot spring terraces by exploring infrared images. Learners will gain an understanding of infrared light and infrared imaging, as well as, deepen their content knowledge on geothermal features. This is Lesson 2 of the Infrared Yellowstone series. Grades 9-12

Let There Be Light, or...Heat?

Students determine which type of light bulb, compact fluorescent or incandescent, is more efficient at converting electrical energy to light instead of heat and for students to calculate the amount and cost of electricity used to power each type of light for 28 hours per week for a year. Grades 11-12, Physical Science.

Infrared and Visible Images

Students make their own three-color astronomical image using visible and infrared part of the spectrum. They compare and contrast the differences in each image made. Grades 11-12, Physics. May be modified for an upper-level art or computer graphics course.

Published: 26 August, 2013

Fun Fact

Looking out into the Universe is like looking back in time. Since light takes time to travel from distant stars and galaxies to us, we are seeing them as they looked when the light left them, not as they are now.