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Activity: Graphing Spectra

Activity: Graphing Spectra

Days Needed 1
Grade level 9 - 12


Students will be introduced to two different representations of spectra - the photographic representation, such as the familiar rainbow, and the graphical representation used more often by astronomers. Students will explore the differences and similarities of both these representations, and will develop a more intuitive feel for a graphical representation, which may not yet be familiar to them.

Science and Math Standards

Content Standard 8:
- Geometry from an Algebraic Perspective
Content Standard A:
- Unifying Concepts and Processes in Science
Content Standard 10:
- Statistics
Content Standard C:
- Light, Energy and Magnetism
- Structure of Atoms and Matter


    Math Students should understand interpreting and manipulating graphical data.
    Science Students should understand the concept of a spectrum.
    Students should have read the Introduction to Spectroscopy.


A rainbow is often given as an everyday example of a spectrum. Most students have seen a rainbow, so this example is used to help make the unfamiliar more familiar. However, the spectra that scientists use, and the spectra that students will see in this lesson plan, appear very different than a rainbow. In this activity, students will explore for themselves two different representations of the same spectrum, and will be introduced to advantages and disadvantages of the different representations.


Hand out the Part I of the Student Worksheet. Have the class get into groups, if they aren't already, and complete it. The class should be discussing the answers, but each writing their own explanation on their own paper. The paper will be collected at the end of class and used as an assessment. The teacher should judge how much time they feel the class will need for this exercise.

  • Student Worksheet Part I
  • Solution for Student Worksheet Part I

    After the class is done, discuss their answers to the questions posed in the worksheet.


    Hand out Part II of the Student Worksheet. Have each student complete it on their own. Go over their answers in class when they have completed them. The teacher may choose to collect and correct the worksheets before discussing the answers in class.

  • Student Worksheet Part II
  • Solution for Student Worksheet Part II


    Formative assessment and observation should be evident throughout the lesson. The worksheet, final questions during closure or a future quiz may serve as summative assessment.


    Have students write for three minutes what they have learned about spectra, how they are represented and the usefulness of the different representations.

    Back to the Main Spectra Unit Menu


    A service of the High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC), Dr. Alan Smale (Director), within the Astrophysics Science Division (ASD) at NASA/GSFC

    NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration