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  • This unit plan shows how teacher Melissa Coton extended her year 5/6 students’ learning about light by engaging them in learning about light pollution at night.

    Rights: Mark Gee, The Art of Night

    Two photos of Wellington on the same night

    These photos were both taken on the same night. The photo on the left was taken from Mount Victoria, above the CBD. The photo on the right was taken out at Red Rocks, an unpopulated area only 15 minutes from the first location, and the Milky Way is clearly visible.

    Students first learned about light: light waves travel in straight lines, shadows, colours in the visible spectrum and how light waves behave – reflection, refraction and diffraction. They then extended their learning about light to explore light pollution and its impacts.

    To collect scientific data about light pollution in their area, students engaged with the online citizen science project Globe at Night. Although overcast skies meant they weren’t able to gather their own data, as planned, teacher Melissa did get some 3am photos that the students evaluated. They also compared the Globe at Night data with data collected from satellites. A core focus of this part of the unit was developing the science capability ‘Critique evidence’.

    Read more about Melissa’s experiences implementing the unit in this case study.

    Download the Word file (see link below).

    Activity idea

    This activity gives you step-by-step instructions on how to make a hologram-like projector.

    Related citizen science project

    Loss of the Night is a free, easy-to-use app that helps users locate eight stars that should be visible in the local night sky. App users indicate how well they can see each star. The purpose is to monitor skyglow and light pollution.

    These citizen science projects could be used in an astronomy unit focused on the planet Mars:

    • The Planet Four project wants help from citizen scientists to help explore the surface and weather of the Mars south polar region.
    • Use the AI4Mars project to help scientists train Mars rovers how to classify Martian terrain.


    This unit plan was developed by teacher Melissa Coton as part of the Citizen Scientists in the Classroom education research project funded through the Ministry of Education’s Teaching & Learning Research Initiative.

    Useful links

    The Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand has a Dark Skies Group that advocates for minimising light pollution, arguing: “Outdoor lighting in New Zealand, as part of Urban Design, is in urgent need of review to ensure minimal wastage of energy and to minimise impacts on human health and natural and cultural systems.” Explore this view, as well as their information on light pollution and monitoring our night skies, which contains useful information about other methods for investigating light pollution.

    With less light pollution, there are many great areas for stargazing in New Zealand. The areas below are of particular note:

    Find out more at The International Dark-Sky Association – the recognised authority on light pollution and one of the leading organisations combating light pollution worldwide, with a range of informative posters, brochures and infographics. Explore the locations of International Dark Sky Places around the world on the Find a Dak Sky Place section.

    Listen to this 2023 RadioNZ podcast, Blinded by the light for stories about the stars and light pollution concerns in Aotearoa.

    This 2020 New Zealand Geographic article Let there be night explores how artificial lights affect us and the environment around us.

    You might like to also try out the NightLights campaign in your area, though most campaigns are currently organised in Germany, it can be used in other countries.

      Published 18 March 2019, Updated 13 July 2020 Referencing Hub articles
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