Light Pollution: Lighting our Path or Leaving Us in the Dark?

Warm-up: Imagining the 1800s

1.      To get your students thinking about light pollution, have them close their eyes and picture what it was like to live in a city in the early 1800s.  Prompt them by reading this paragraph and asking them to put themselves in the situation:


You are walking down a cobbled stone street late at night, and are determined to make it home as fast as possible.  The only light you have to see by is the burning of your lantern and the lanterns of the few others who pass you.  You must watch carefully where you are walking, and keep an eye out for any thieves who could materialize out of the darkness between the buildings.  It is a clear summer night, and glancing up at the sky you can see numerous of the constellations that your grandfather had once pointed out to you when you were a child.  The moon is also shining brightly, and you are silently grateful for that, as it pours more light onto the dark streets.  As you reach home, not a single light shines from the windows, as your family has all gone to bed for the night.  You open up the door and walk into pitch darkness, placing your hand out for the familiar feeling of the wall, as you slowly maneuver your way through the kitchen to retrieve a candle from the table.  Your eyes have just adjusted to the darkness of the house as you light the candle with nearby matches and pull out a piece of parchment and quill pen from the desk in the front parlor.   You start a letter to your brother-in-law about a recent business deal gone sour, hurrying to finish before the candle burns down to a mere puddle of wax.  When you are finished, you take the candle with you as you climb the stairs and extinguish the flame as you crawl into bed.  As you close your eyes to fall asleep you prepare yourself for waking early the next morning - after all, to wake any later than the rising of the sun would be a waste of precious daylight hours.


2.      Ask students to compare the life of the person in the story to their own life.  You may consider having students jot down a quick scenario or journal entry.  Have them share their reactions with the class.


Activity One: Reading about Light Pollutions

1.      Pass out Reproducible #1 - “Our Vanishing Night” Article to students.  Briefly explain what light pollution is and why it is a topic of discussion. (Light pollution is excessive or obtrusive artificial lighting that has adverse affects on the species and places that surround it.  It has a negative impacts on animal migration and mating patterns, is harmful to human health, reduces visibility of the sky, and wastes energy.)

2.      Have students read the article either by themselves or by taking turns. 

3.      When students are finished, talk about the article and what it discussed.  Some questions to consider are:

a)      What were the main points of the article? 

b)      What was the author’s viewpoint on light pollution?

c)      Did you agree/disagree with this article?

d)      Do you have any questions after reading this article?


Activity Two: The Pros and Cons of Lights at Night

1.      Give students some time to research light pollution on their own.  Have them use part 1 of Reproducible #2 - Is Nighttime Lighting Leaving Us in the Dark? to keep track of the pros and cons of nighttime lights. 


Activity Three:  Making an Argument

1.      Either in a second class period or for homework, have students complete part 2 of Reproducible #2 - Is Nighttime Lighting Leaving Us in the Dark? where they will write a persuasive letter to the editor on light pollution.  Have them use what they learned in activities 1 and 2 to support their argument.


Wrap Up:  Discuss the Options

1.      Lead a discussion with students on whether they chose to support the nighttime lighting ban or not.  What evidence led to their decision?  What aspects of the issue did they find the most important?  Did anyone come up with alternatives or compromises to try?


Extension:  Mapping the Night Sky

Have your students keep a “sky journal” for a month and record what they observe in the sky every night.  Also have them record the weather for that day and any other information that they think might affect visibility.  At the end of the month, have students analyze their journals to see if they notice any patterns or correlations.