The Refraction Interactive is an adjustable-size file that displays nicely on smart phones, on tablets such as the iPad, on Chromebooks, and on laptops and desktops. The size of the Interactive can be scaled to fit the device that it is displayed on. The compatibility with smart phones, iPads, other tablets, and Chromebooks make it a perfect tool for use in a 1:1 classroom.


Teaching Ideas and Suggestions:

This Interactive is intended for use at any stage of a learning cycle on refraction.  The Interactive lends itself to both quantitative and qualitative studies. The Interactive provides a sturdy exposure to concepts such as the direction of bending, the effect of angle on the amount of deviation from the original light path, the effect of incident angle upon the proportion of reflection and refraction, the nature of total internal reflection, etc. The Interactive also allows one to investigate quantitative relationships such as Snell's Law, the effect of indices of refraction upon the critical angle, etc. The Physics Classroom has provided three different activity sheets as examples of how the Interactive might be used.

The first activity sheet provided by The Physics Classroom provides learners with an inquiry-based activity.  Several questions are presented and learners must determine a procedure for answering them. Variables must be controlled; others must be altered; observations and measurements must be made. Data must be collected and organized. And finally, learners can answer the question using the format of a claim (answer), evidence (references to collected data) and reasoning (use of logic to explain how the evidence supports the claim). It is not recommended that you assign every question to each student. It is advisable to select the questions that fit best with the course curriculum and philosophy. 

The second activity sheet focuses the learner's efforts on understanding the dual behavior of reflection and refraction at the boundary between two materials. Learners investigate the effect of the angle of incidence upon both the angle of refraction and the relative brightness of the reflected and refracted rays. Learners recognize that increasing the angle of incidence causes an increase in the brightness of the reflected ray and a decrease in the brightness of the refracted ray. The activity also has the learner explore the conditions under which incident light will undergo total internal reflection. 

The third activity sheet represents the use of the Interactive in more quantitative way. The Physics Classroom recommends that the hands-on version of this lab be performed if the materials are readily available. If they are not, this Interactive may be the next best way of approaching Snell's Law using data-collection and analysis. This second activity sheet also makes for a great makeup-lab for those students that missed the hands-on version of it.

Our Refraction simulation is now available with two Concept Checkers - one focuses on refraction and the direction of bending; it complements Activity #1 (above). The other focuses on total internal reflection and the critical angle; it complements Activity #3 (above). Do the simulation. Then follow it up with the Concept Checkers:

Related Resources

There are numerous resources at The Physics Classroom website that serve as very complementary supports for the Refraction Interactive. These include:
  • Minds On Physics Internet Modules:
    The Minds On Physics Internet Modules include a collection of interactive questioning modules that help learners assess their understanding of physics concepts and solidify those understandings by answering questions that require higher-order thinking. Assignments RL1, RL2, RL3, and RL5 of the Refraction and Lenses module provide great complements to this Interactive. They are best used in the middle to later stages of the learning cycle. Visit the Minds On Physics Internet Modules.
  • Curriculum/Practice: Several Concept Development worksheets at the Curriculum Corner will be very useful in assisting students in cultivating their understanding, most notably ...

    Light Refraction
    Direction of Bending
    Snell's Law
    Total Internal Reflection

    Visit the Curriculum Corner.

  • Labwork: 
    Simulations should always support (never supplant) hands-on learning. The Laboratory section of The Physics Classroom website includes several hands-on ideas that complement this Interactive. Five notable lab ideas include ...

    Refraction Action
    Direction of Bending
    How Much? Lab
    The Unknown n Lab
    R and R Lab

    Visit The Laboratory.
  • Science Reasoning Activities:
    Science classrooms should be filled with reasoning activities. There are two related activities in the Refraction section of the Science Reasoning Center that will challenge students to employ close reading, data analysis, and logical reasoning. The activities are named ...

    Snell's Law
    Reflection and Transmission

    Visit the Science Reasoning Center.

Additional resources and ideas for incorporating the Refraction Interactive into an instructional unit on Refraction and Reflection can be found at the Teacher Toolkits section of The Physics Classroom website.  Visit Teacher Toolkits.


The Physics Classroom would like to extend a special thanks to Nerd Island Studios for the creation of this HTML5 Interactive. Visit to see more great stuff by Nerd Island Studios.