Friday, October 31, 2008

Mystery Boxes

One of my favorite First Week Activities when I taught 5th and 6th graders was MYSTERY BOXES.

In fact, I think I used this when I student taught. That would have been in 1969, in Hopkins, MN, where I got my first teaching job in January of 1970.

Click here for a copy of the LabSheet.

It takes a bit of time to set up but is really worth it.
    1.    Find at least seven similar-sized boxes, such as shoe boxes. It would be nice if they were exactly the same size. The best ones I ever made were 6 inch cubes.
    2.    Into each box, add the same items. This is VERY important! Always put the same things into each box! About six or seven items is good. Items such as these: marble, small rubber ball, jingle bell, plastic spoon, etc. Nothing that can rot or break.   
    3.    Cover with brown paper, grocery bags work great. Add lots of tape. Obviously, this is to discourage peeking!   
    4.    Label on the outside with fat, black marker with something generic like A, B, C, etc.
    5.    Run off labsheets.
    6.    Hand out a labsheet to each student and a MYSTERY BOX to each small group.
    7.    Tell them the object of the day is to figure out what's in the MYSTERY BOXES. Tell them exactly how many are inside each box. They are to try to figure it out Without Peeking! Use the senses. (Have magnets ready if they ask.)   
    8.    Give them one class period to record and test and listen and fill out their papers.
    9.    The next day or if you have a 90 minute Block, the last 1/2 hour: Have each team send one person up to the chalkboard to write down what they think is in the boxes.

IMPORTANT: When they are all done recording, circle all the CORRECT ANSWERS ONLY. If you are really lucky, some but not all the items will be listed by any team. I was always very happy if at least one item remained a mystery.


Basically, science is about trying to understand what isn't known at the moment. And nobody tells a scientist if they are correct! This drives kids crazy but is the NATURE OF SCIENCE. Scientists are always trying to solve puzzles. What is inside a single atom? What is causing that sickness? What is Mars like on the surface? How deep is the Ocean? Will that Tornado come close to our town? Scientists have to figure things out with their senses and intuition and run experiments and keep trying to figure out what the "Answers" are. But nobody tells us if we are right.

CONSIDER THIS: Add Mystery Boxes to the beginning of your teaching year.

FUN LINK: Another version of Mystery Boxes that uses one steel ball and ramps or partitions inside each box they have to try to figure out or map. A third version.