Discover This: Optical Illusions

I get a kick out of the rock band OK Go. When they first started out, their quirky DIY music videos made me smile because they captured people’s attention without spending a fortune on flashy production costs.

With their success, the band’s music videos have gone a bit over the top. Check this one out, which is full of optical illusions.

Wild, right?

Optical illusions are fascinating tricks our brains play on us. In an effort to quickly make sense of the vast amount of sensory information we’re bombarded with all the time, our brains rely on quick “rules” to sort out what we see and hear. Watch this 5-minute TED-Ed video that explains what exactly happens to our minds. You can even take a review quiz afterwards to see if you got everything they try to explain.

Keep Exploring Optical Illusions

  • Keep Your Eye On It
    The Museum of Vision created a free 50+ page downloadable activity guide for exploring optical illusions. You’ll cover some basic eye anatomy and then learn the science behind some classic illusions.
  • Hand Hiding In Plain Sight
    This is a pretty simple example of what the TED-Ed talk spoke about with the illusion we see with shading and coloring and how we anticipate light reflecting off a surface. All you need for this art project is a blank sheet of paper and some markers or colored pencils.
  • Escher Tessellations

    Explore the history and mind-boggling drawings by M.C. Escher. His tessellations are actually quite simple to make, once you understand the math behind the art. Download a free lesson on how to design your own tessellation. If you’re curious to learn more about the math, check out this wiki.
  • Does the Dragon Move?
    Watch this YouTube video of a paper dragon. Next, download a copy of the 3D dragon template that you can cut out yourself. Make on your own video and experiment how different viewing heights change your perspective.
  • Make It Personal
    Not everything is as it seems in life. Talk about illusions you encounter with people and life. When have you discovered something or someone that wasn’t what they seemed, at first? How did it make you feel when you discovered the truth? Why do some illusions make us go ‘wow’ and others make us upset?

What’s your favorite optical illusion?
How did you share it with your kids?



Alessa Giampaolo Keener, M.Ed. homeschooled her children from kindergarten into college. Over the last 15+ years, she has also worked with families in creating individualized learning plans. As a professional curriculum developer, Alessa has created afterschool youth development programs for a Baltimore-based nonprofit, as well as teaching materials for homeschool parents and brick and mortar school teachers.