How often do you stop to think about color? We take it for granted, but it's ubiquitous in our everyday lives, and whether you're looking at it through the lens of art, science, or philosophy, color can be evocative. Full disclosure: I'm the mother of a toddler, and we're talking about color a lot in my house right now, as my daughter learns to identify and describe the world around her.
From the very basics of the color wheel and the rainbow, to the physics of how our eyeballs and brains process light, to the more abstract question of why colors can make us feel certain ways, there are loads of teachable ideas that start with color, for all ages. Check out my selection of videos that investigate the full spectrum.
Video Playlist: The Rainbow Connection
Watch the first video below, or watch the whole playlist on YouTube.
- The Effect of Color | Off Book | PBS (07:30)
Off Book is a brilliant Web-only video series from PBS that delves into cutting-edge arts and digital culture. I've loved every fast-paced, brightly-hued episode I've watched. In this one, experts speak up about a variety of angles on the color story.
- What Color is a Mirror? (05:02)
Michael from Vsauce digs in to some deep questions about color, and in particular, the philosophical conundrum of how to characterize the color of a mirror. Along the way, we learn about structural color and light scattering.
- Radiolab Conducts the Choral Color Experiment (02:42)
I'm a huge fan of the science/philosophy podcast RadioLab. Radiolab did a captivating episode about color, and in this behind-the-scenes video, host Jad Abumrad uses a choir to try to audibly represent the color spectrum for radio. Trust me, it'll make sense after you listen to the show.
- Color By Nano - The Art of Kate Nichols: Science on the SPOT (09:55)
This wonderful video profiles Kate Nichols, whose fascination with structural color compelled her to become the first artist-in-residence at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Kate synthesizes nanoparticles in the lab and incorporates them into her artwork. Also, watch her TED Talk here.
- There is No Pink Light (07:02)
In just one minute, MinutePhysics explains where pink comes from, armed only with felt pens. Get answers to all your pressing physics questions in the blink of an eye at the MinutePhysics YouTube Channel.
- HOLI Festival (05:15)
Holi is a holiday celebrated by Hindus all around the world to welcome the spring. Participants douse each other with powdered dyes and liquids. The resulting glorious revelry has inspired college-student-saturated tributes, numerous music videos, and a marathon, the Color in Motion 5K.
- Sesame Street: OK Go - Three Primary Colors (01:31)
For those of you who teach the litle ones, rock band and viral video masters OK Go made this fun stop-motion video for Sesame Street. They also created an interactive game. I have seen this video 637 times. Did I mention I have a toddler?
- Synesthesia (08:19)
Filmmaker Jonathan Fowler combines quirky vintage film clips, commentary from neuroscientist David Eagleman, and interviews with synesthetes to explore an unusual neurological condition that causes some people's senses to blend -- they might "hear" colors, or "taste" music.
- How Do We Perceive Color? (04:06)
Philosopher Alva Noë takes a look at the intersection of neuroscience and philosophy in the pursuit of understanding how we perceive color. Read more about Noë's ideas in this interview from Salon.
- Light and Colour -- Bill Nye (06:05)
Everyone's favorite TV scientist, Bill Nye, explains light and color in his affable style, complete with gags and quirky sound effects. Though Nye's most well-known show ended in 1998, he has continued to advocate and educate about science through the media.
- Neil Harbisson: I Listen to Color (09:36)
Artist Neil Harbisson has a rare visual condition that causes total color blindness; he has seen only a grayscale world since birth. But a device attached to his head translates color into audible frequencies.
More Resources for Exploring Color
Are you ready to color your world, or at least your classroom? There are some fun and engaging resources out there for intrepid color adventurers. Whether you're looking for color wheel lessons for primary kids, electromagnetic spectrum units for high school physics, or you just want to learn more yourself, start by digging in to these links. But I've only scratched the surface of color-related resources -- if you have any favorites to add, please share links in the comments below.
- Color Uncovered: An Interactive Book for the iPad from the Exploratorium
- The Causes of Color Web Exhibit (see also their Teacher Guide)
- "The Crayola-fication of the World" by Aatish Bhatia
- Color Matters: Extensive Resources from Color Professor Jill Morton
- COLOURlovers Creative Online Community
- The Color Association's Resource Page
- Holi: Festival of Colors (still photographs from The Big Picture)
- Pinboard of Color Wheels for Elementary Students by Donna Staten on Pinterest
- An Introduction to Color in the Visual Arts (Grade 9-12 lesson plan from EDSITEment)
- Light and Color Lesson Plans from Teachnology
- Videos and Resources on the Dispersion of Light/Electromagnetic Spectrum from MIT OpenCourseWare
- The Physics and Chemistry of Color: The Fifteen Causes of Color, by Kurt Nassau
- Color Science Experiments from Steve Spangler Science
- "What To Know About Using Colors In The Classroom," by Katie Lepi, from Edudemic