Experiments with Color, Transparency, and Opacity, K-3

When my K-3 students walked in to their first Art Lab there were 4 questions on the board.


2. How can we CHANGE transparency?

3. What does OPAQUE mean?

4. Why are the 3 primary colors important?

I read the questions and said, “We will answer these questions at the end of our lab. I hope you listen for CLUES when I talk to you are you are working! Today, we need to investigate Color, Transparent, and Opaque! There are two experiments that you will be doing…”

Now, I certainly give them the answers, but only after they have materials in their hands that I can point out the new vocabulary with. There are also clues within the stations, such as 2nd and 3rd only having the 3 primary colors to work with or lots of see-through objects at the projectors.

K-3: Station 1: Projector Color Play and Collages

This was inspired by the Reggio Emilia light table and overhead color play that I saw at the Sabot Institute in 2013. There were multiple bowls of materials which included Lego pieces, borrowed math manipulatives, colored cellophane, buttons, stencils, and plastic. I only have one screen, so I prop up an art table and cover it with white paper (don’t worry, its stable and won’t fall). The overhead projectors are rarely used in schools these days, but we luckily had some stocked in the basement. In groups of 3-5, students experimented with the materials while I got Station 2 started. After Station 2 was actively working, I would give challenges to the projector station.

How many transparent things can we stack until we can no longer see through it? How many new colors can you make using only the colored cellophane? Why is the wood orange circle a shadow instead of orange on the wall? How many objects can you find that are opaque and cast only shadows?  How can we put our hands onto the ceiling?

Students only had one rule with the overheads- DON’T look into the top part! I explained it like looking into the sun with a magnifying glass and that it will hurt your eyes for a few minutes. The students at this station took turns documenting their work with pictures and video on the school iPads. Those are the pictures seen here.


K-1: Station 2: Marker and Pipette Tie Dye

I like to surprise students, so I showed them my marker covered coffee filter and had them watch the water spread the color out. Then, we talked about the steps they needed to do to get the pipettes. 1. They grabbed a coffee filter and a plain white paper. 2. They wrote their name with black crayon. 3. They added lots of colors with the markers.

In our science closet, we had a lot of extra pipettes from past years’ stock, so I borrowed about 25 to use in Art Labs. We learned how to use them in 3 steps, “Squeeze, Dip, Let Go!” I mention that the water goes into the pipette because we squeezed the air out and the pipette is trying to fill it up, but they are usually too excited to care about that tidbit. They also don’t pay much mind to the fine motor skills that they are developing. I highly recommend trading the markers for the pipettes so students don’t try to color on the wet filters (ruining the markers). It’s also best to write your name on the coffee filter, in case the bottom paper gets separated.

When the pipettes were in action, I would mention how the colors are blending together and the water is making them more transparent. I ask what new colors we’ve made and what we should do differently on the next one. The best thing about coffee filter tie dye is a 200 filters cost $1.50. I’ve also used this project for free art day and colorful paper flowers. If you don’t have pipettes, use a dollar store spray bottle.


2-3: Station 2: Dippity Dye Paper and Pipette Tie Dye

I can trust the older ones with some messier materials, so 2nd and 3rd were allowed to use watered down tempra paint and dippity dye paper, which is special absorbent paper for crafts. They only used the 3 primary colors and plain water for their tie dye. I showed them the same steps for the pipettes and let them go to town. We would point out the secondary colors when they were created and observe how water changed the color.

Students wrote names with crayon on the special paper and had a plain paper underneath to help soak up extra water and make it easier to put to on the drying rack. The “after image” on the paper below is just as cool. Prepare for messy clean up.

Conclusion and Reflection Discussion

We were cleaned up with 10 min to spare each class. K-1 would get 3 small squares of the primary colored cellophane to bring home. We used them to see our primary colors and talk about transparency. Students could look through them, but when all three were layered, they had a tougher time. We connected that layering transparent materials makes it harder to see through. When the students spoke about the water and markers, we connect that adding clear water made the “opaque” colors transparent. I know that for some- the concept goes over their head, but its all about building the platform for future connections.

2-3 really do grasp onto the idea that we can change transparency to the point of opaqueness. We talk more about how colors mix and connect with primary meaning, “no colors can mix to make red, blue, or yellow.” Yes, I’m aware that’s not entirely true in the RGB and CMYK perspective, but it is in the Elementary Paint Mixing world. Color, Light, and the way that we see is something I save for 4th-6th.


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