Spinning Illusions

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In this activity, learners construct three optical illusion toys to examine how our brains play tricks on what we see. Learners use simple materials to build a Circle Spinner, Thaumatrope, and Phenakistascope. Each project can be completed individually or as a set. This lesson guide includes background information about how these toys produce optical illusions as well as an explanation of how TVs and movies work. [Activity is publicly available through a web crawler capture on Archive.org.]

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per student

Age Range:
Ages 6 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per student)

  • Thin cardboard
  • String - strong and thick
  • White paper
  • 1 Baseboard
  • 1 Paint paddle
  • 2 popsicle sticks
  • Rubber bands, medium
  • File Folder or thick paper
  • 2in. 1x2 wood
  • 8 in. dowel, 1/4 in.
  • Patterns (page 8 of PDF or find your own online)
  • Black paper
  • Stapler
  • Big cups for circle
  • Markers
  • Nail, small to balance Circle Spinner and poke holes
  • Glue stick (not hot)
  • Mirror


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Technology
  • Life Sciences
    • Human Body
      • The Brain and Nervous System
    • Human Senses and Perception
      • Vision
  • Physical Sciences
    • Vibration and Waves
    • Motion and Forces

Informal Categories

  • Arts and Crafts
  • Photography and Film/Video
  • Toys


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Watsonville Environmental Science Workshop


  • All rights reserved, Watsonville Environmental Science Workshop, 2011