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What's the Difference - Fluorescent or Reflective?

Being safe and seen is easier if you wear or carry something 'high vis'. Most high vis has two very different features that help you to be more visible at different times; fluorescent colours which show up in the daytime, and reflective materials which show up at night when a light is shone onto them (for example car headlights).

Understanding the difference between 'reflective' and 'fluorescent' is important if you want to be seen whatever the time of day or night.

For these activities you will need a selection of fluorescent and reflective materials, for example some old cut up high vis waistcoats, fluorescent paper, reflectors pupils have brought in or a high vis craft pack. Try to include a mix of fluorescent colours. Also you will need to be able to get outside!

Gather Your Resources

  • Look at your selection of high vis materials
  • Separate the materials into three piles:
    • Fluorescent materials - these are really bright neon colours (not just yellow). They show up well in the daytime, especially in bad weather or when it is starting to get dark.
    • Reflective materials - these are shiny or silver, but not really bright. They show up well at night or in the dark.
    • Fluorescent, reflective materials - these are really bright AND shiny. They show up well in the daytime and at night.

Fluorescent Demo - Playground Squares

  • This task works best on a dull day as fluorescent colours show up best in dull weather.
  • You will need three 10cm x 10cm squares: one fluorescent yellow (eg cut up high vis jacket), one normal yellow paper and one black paper.
  • This will help pupils see and understand how fluorescent colours help you to be seen in the daytime.
    • Ask three pupils with similar coats to put their coats on.
    • Take the three squares (10cm x 10cm): fluorescent yellow material, non-fluorescent yellow paper and black paper.
    • Safety pin one square to the front of each coat.
    • Go outside and ask the pupils to walk away to the furthest side of the playground and then slowly walk back.
    • Ask the other pupils to say which is the easiest square to see as they walk back.
    • Result: the pupils should see how fluorescent yellow shows up better than non-fluorescent yellow which shows up better than black.
  • Variations
    • Teddy Bear Walk:  Using two similar teddies, dress one up in a high vis jacket and the other without. Take them both for a 'walk' to the other side of the playground and let the others see which is brightest.
    • Camera, Action:  Ask a pupil to record the three pupils walking towards them. Use the video in a class presentation about being seen or for a road safety assembly.
    • Photo Call: Take a photo of the different views at the same distance. Print and use the photos for a road safety display. If photos are taken showing the squares pinned on backs rather than fronts, why not post to social media or email us and we may feature your photo.
    • ABC: Instead of using squares, cut out three similar letters in a 10cm x 10cm size. Secretly and randomly pin different letters to the three pupils' coats. See which letter the other pupils can read first as they approach. The fluorescent letter should be easiest to read first and the black letter most difficult.
    • Far, Far Away: Use this activity as an excuse to take your pupils out further afield; try it in a wide open space or country park.

Reflective Demo - Dark Tube Experiment

This is a version of our Dark Box experiment, using a cardboard tube instead of an old shoe box. Either will work well; our blog about the shoebox version has a lot more info though!

  • You will need: a poster tube with one sealed end, mini torch, a small piece of reflective material. If you don't have a poster tube, make a tube 5cm-10cm diameter, approx 60cm long with cardboard (make sure it is thick enough not to let any light in through it).
    • Put a piece of reflective material into the sealed bottom of the tube (make sure reflective surface is upwards). Put your head really close to the tube (so no daylight gets in). Shine a torch into the tube and look inside.
    • Ask: What can you see?  The reflector will look really bright. The darkness of the tube is like night and the torch is like car headlights so this shows how reflective materials show up at night when a light is shone onto them.
    • Now look in without shining the torch (make sure your head is close so no other light gets in)?
    • Ask: What can you see? It will be too dark to see anything. This is like night time when there are no car headlights. It shows how you need a light source to make a reflector work.
    • Take the reflector out of the tube (or use another reflector) and put it on the table. Shine a torch on it.
    • Ask: How bright is the reflector now? Is it brighter than when it was in the tube? It won't be nearly as bright as it was in the tube with the torch. This shows how reflectors don't really work in daylight.
    • Conclusion: reflectors work when it is dark and a light is shone on them.
  • Variations:
    • Lego Fun: Use two tubes. Stick some reflective material onto a mini toy figure (eg lego man/woman) and put that in the bottom of one tube. Get another similar figure (but without the reflective material) and put it in the bottom of the other tube. Look into each tube with your head close and using a torch. Which lego character is easiest to see in the dark? By using characters rather than just reflectors it will be easier to relate how reflective materials help people to be seen.
    • Darkroom: Take some reflective items into a dark room or walk-in cupboard. With the lights off, go in, shut the door and holding a torch by the side of your head shine the torch onto the reflective items to see how brightly they show up.  Reflectors bounce light back to the light source (they are retro-reflective) so you want your eyes to be as near to the source as possible which is why you should hold the torch by your head.
    • My Reflective Things: Ask pupils to bring things in from home which they think are reflective, or use your class's school bags, coats and shoes, Can you spot any that have reflective materials on them as part of their design? Test them in your dark cupboard to see how bright the reflective parts are.