• testing ambient light levels
    Testing ambient light levels is easy!
  • African Art gallery at the de Young museum
    African Art gallery at the de Young museum
  • rainforest at the California Academy of Sciences
    Rainforest at the California Academy of Sciences

How do architects and exhibit designers optimize lighting? Contrast light levels among galleries at your local art or science museum to find out!

Explore Your Local Art Museum or Science Museum

This lesson is one of several that focus on the thinking skills connecting artists and scientists. This field trip activity calls for students to explore, analyze, and communicate about the exhibits on view at the California Academy of Sciences or the de Young, but you can use these strategies to explore any local art museum and science museum.

In this case, students will compare and contrast galleries by studying the use of light in different contexts. They will analyze how lighting affects mood and directs attention, in addition to analyzing collected data to determine if light is minimized to protect objects on display from fading.

google science journal exhibit lights screenshot
  • Science notebooks or student worksheets
  • Pencils
  • Clipboards (if preferred)
  • Science Journal app by the Making & Science team at Google, to utilize the light sensor, notes, and camera functions (1 per student team)

Reservations to visit the de Young and the California Academy of Sciences, or to any local museum!

Before the Visit
  1. Distribute the "My Journal" worksheet, and introduce the theme of the lesson:

    » Theme: Light. The form of energy that makes things visible; the brightness produced by the sun, fire, a lamp, etc.
    » Vocabulary: Exhibit design. The process of planning and mapping how objects and specimens are placed in a space for public display. 
    » Skill: Analysis. The act or process of studying something in detail and exchanging information and ideas. 

  2. As the students record this information, ask them to predict if the skill of the day will be used by artists, scientists, or both. Instruct students to note their prediction.
  3. Share with students that the career for the day will be:

    » Career: Architect. Someone who designs buildings

  4. Inform students that while they visit the California Academy of Sciences and/or the de Young they will carefully study how specific exhibits are lit. They will discover how light directs our attention and how its placement is designed to lessen damage to the exhibits on view.
  5. Introduce students to the Science Journal app by the Making & Science team at Google. For each "Trial," you can take a recording using the phone's light sensor to calculate the average ambient light (measured in lux). You can also add notes to each trial and take a photograph to remember the location.

    » For example, one could visit the cheetah diorama in African Hall, take a light measurement, rename the trial, add a note about the mood in the exhibit, and take a snapshot to attach to that data point!

  6. Discuss as a class how, when planning and carrying out investigations (see NSTA Summary), scientists need to decide how measurements will be recorded and how many data are needed so that they have enough evidence to support a claim. Review the recommended technique for collecting light data, and use this as an opportunity to practice taking measurements!
At the Museum
google science journal african hall
  1. Distribute one or more "Data Sheets" per student or small group, depending on your plan. Student groups may select multiple spaces to visit, using the same data collection at each so that they can compare results.
  2. Review the activity with students before entering the museum to ensure that everyone understands the instructions before beginning. 
  3. Provide students and chaperones at least two hours to visit multiple locations. Be sure to designate a specific rendezvous time. To help limit crowding in the galleries, groups can plan their own route, and can spend time enjoying drop-in programs and being social while they complete the assignment.
Back in the Classroom

Teacher tip: Adjust your goal for this follow-up activity based on the quantity and quality of the data collected, in addition to the types of museum galleries that drew students' attention as they explored exhibit lighting. 

1. Review collected data as a class, focusing on one or more of the following:

  • Represent data in tables and/or a graphical displays to reveal patterns that indicate relationships.
  • Compare and contrast data collected by different groups in order to discuss similarities and differences in their findings.
  • Analyze data to refine the design of a particular gallery. Was the lighting intentional? What evidence do you have to support your thinking?
  • Use data to evaluate and refine the design of a hypothetical museum gallery.
  • Consider limitations of data analysis (e.g., measurement error), and/or seek to improve precision and accuracy of data with better technological tools and methods (e.g., multiple trials).

2, Reflect on the skill of analysis and ask students how they used this skill in this activity.

3. Ask students how the skill might be useful for artists/architects/exhibit designers and for scientists. Revisit the predictions they made at the beginning about who might use the skill and discuss how their thinking about this might have changed.

4. Before completing the day’s lesson, ask students to respond to the reflection prompt: If you were an architect or exhibit designer, what type of museum gallery would you design, and what role would light play?


Art & Science: Decomposition
In this activity, students will discuss the role of conservators in protecting objects in museums. Students will set up an investigation to find out how effective different materials are at blocking sunlight and protecting a piece of construction paper from fading. Then, they will use the knowledge they gained about the materials to create an artistic composition of their own!

Next Generation Science Standards

Science and Engineering Practices

  • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
de young and california academy of sciences logos

For more than 10 years, the California Academy of Sciences has partnered with the de Young to pilot classroom activities that merge the overlapping disciplines of art and science.

This activity is one of several that focus on the thinking skills connecting artists and scientists.

Appropriate for: 4th Grade - 6th Grade
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Activity Time: 120 minutes
Subjects: Planning Investigations