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written by Lawrence Woolf
published by the General Atomics
This page is a multi-day module for grades 8-12 on the topic of color.  It was designed as a set of six interlinked experiments to explore how colors are formed by light absorption and emission.  Activities include: physical models to experiment with additive and subtractive color and explore how objects reflect and absorb light; examining color mixing by using a simple Power Point tool called CMYK; using magnification to examine the dot colors produced by an ink jet printer, and more. Detailed lesson plans, student activity guides, and background information are freely accessible online.  The module was developed to be used with a set of unique hands-on lab materials sold by the publisher, however, many items are readily obtainable from teacher supply stores.  

This resource is aligned with national science education standards and has been refined through classroom testing.  

This item is part of a larger collection of inquiry-based modules.  SEE RELATED ITEMS on this page for a link to the full index.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Education Practices
- Active Learning
= Inquiry Learning
- Color
- High School
- Middle School
- Informal Education
- Instructional Material
= Best practice
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Laboratory
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Student Guide
= Unit of Instruction
- Assessment Material
Intended Users Formats Ratings
- Educators
- application/pdf
- image/gif
- text/html
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Access Rights:
Free access and
Available for purchase
The lesson module is freely accessible; the lab materials are available through the publisher at a nominal cost.
© 2002 General Atomics,
assessment, color dispersion, color perception, color wheel, dispersion, lesson plan, optics, visible spectrum
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created May 25, 2009 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 13, 2016 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
February 1, 2008
Other Collections:

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

4. The Physical Setting

4F. Motion
  • 3-5: 4F/E3. Light travels and tends to maintain its direction of motion until it interacts with an object or material. Light can be absorbed, redirected, bounced back, or allowed to pass through.
  • 6-8: 4F/M1. Light from the sun is made up of a mixture of many different colors of light, even though to the eye the light looks almost white. Other things that give off or reflect light have a different mix of colors.
  • 6-8: 4F/M2. Something can be "seen" when light waves emitted or reflected by it enter the eye—just as something can be "heard" when sound waves from it enter the ear.
  • 6-8: 4F/M5. Human eyes respond to only a narrow range of wavelengths of electromagnetic waves-visible light. Differences of wavelength within that range are perceived as differences of color.

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 6-8: 11B/M5. The usefulness of a model depends on how closely its behavior matches key aspects of what is being modeled. The only way to determine the usefulness of a model is to compare its behavior to the behavior of the real-world object, event, or process being modeled.
  • 9-12: 11B/H3. The usefulness of a model can be tested by comparing its predictions to actual observations in the real world. But a close match does not necessarily mean that other models would not work equally well or better.
  • 9-12: 11B/H5. The behavior of a physical model cannot ever be expected to represent the full-scale phenomenon with complete accuracy, not even in the limited set of characteristics being studied. The inappropriateness of a model may be related to differences between the model and what is being modeled.
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Record Link
AIP Format
L. Woolf, (General Atomics, San Diego, 2002), WWW Document, (
L. Woolf, General Atomics Sciences: It's a Colorful Life (General Atomics, San Diego, 2002), <>.
APA Format
Woolf, L. (2008, February 1). General Atomics Sciences: It's a Colorful Life. Retrieved August 14, 2022, from General Atomics:
Chicago Format
Woolf, Lawrence. General Atomics Sciences: It's a Colorful Life. San Diego: General Atomics, February 1, 2008. (accessed 14 August 2022).
MLA Format
Woolf, Lawrence. General Atomics Sciences: It's a Colorful Life. San Diego: General Atomics, 2002. 1 Feb. 2008. 14 Aug. 2022 <>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Author = "Lawrence Woolf", Title = {General Atomics Sciences: It's a Colorful Life}, Publisher = {General Atomics}, Volume = {2022}, Number = {14 August 2022}, Month = {February 1, 2008}, Year = {2002} }
Refer Export Format

%A Lawrence Woolf %T General Atomics Sciences: It's a Colorful Life %D February 1, 2008 %I General Atomics %C San Diego %U %O application/pdf

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %A Woolf, Lawrence %D February 1, 2008 %T General Atomics Sciences: It's a Colorful Life %I General Atomics %V 2022 %N 14 August 2022 %8 February 1, 2008 %9 application/pdf %U

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General Atomics Sciences: It's a Colorful Life:

Is Part Of General Atomics Sciences Education Foundation: Education Modules

This is the full index of inquiry-based educational modules by the same authors.

relation by Caroline Hall
Covers the Same Topic As General Atomics Sciences: Chromatics - The Science of Color

This module by the same authors is a more advanced approach to color concepts.  It it an investigation the origin of colors in materials, including gasses, liquids, and solids.

relation by Caroline Hall
Is a Teaching Guide For Physics Classroom: Color Addition

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