Mini Mystery Boxes

Author(s): SEP Coordinators

Lesson Overview

Grade level(s):

Grade 6, Grade 7, Grade 8, Grade 9, Grade 10, Grade 11, Grade 12

Subjects(s):

Science Skills

Topic:

Science skills: Critical thinking, Modeling the process of science

Big ideas(s):

How do scientists learn about things that can't be seen or touched? •  In this investigation, using senses other than sight, students gather information about the inside of a mini box and draw or make a model that shows what they think the inside of the box looks like.

Vocabulary words:

mystery box, scientific method, inside, outside, configuration, visible, invisible, prediction, hypothesis, model, experimental model, reproducibility, evidence, results, observation, indirect

What you need:

Mini-Mystery Box Kits SEP Resource Center K 067 and/or K 068. You can purchase the miniboxes at a science supplier. Name: Ob-Scertainer: A Better Black Box by Lab-Aids Inc. See for example: https://lab-aids.com/kits-and-modules/details/ob-scertainer-a-better-black-box ($79 for a set of 24)

Key diagram for the miniboxes for the teacher only

Task card,  worksheet

Poster/chart paper

For constructing models: Petri dishes, wooden sticks, crazy glue.

Grouping:

Students should work in pairs first with each student having his/her own minibox of the same type. Each student will work first to draw his/her own model, then they discuss with their partner about their models and make refinements. Then convene a gathering of two groups (4 people) that have the same type of minibox to further refine the model and make a proposal as a group as to what they think the inside of the box looks like. Finally, convene a whole group/classroom conference where the teams of four present their findings.  If construction of the model is taking place groups of two will work better; if discussion of proposed models takes place groups of 4 will work well.

Setting:

The lesson takes place in the classroom. Students should be able to move from small groups to larger groups.

Teacher shows a mini mystery box to the students. The box cannot be opened. The inside of the box has a raised terrain and there is a small steel ball that when the box is moved one can hear. The challenge question is: What does the inside of the box look like?  Students will propose a model of the inside of the box based on what they hear. There are 12 pairs of each type of minibox per kit.

Time needed:

If the students are asked to draw their models, discuss with another pair, and share with the whole group, the session will take one class period. If models are to be constructed then another class period will be needed.

Author Name(s): 
SEP Coordinators
Summary: 

This lesson is designed to help students better understand the nature of science. It uses simple, readily available mini-mystery boxes to model how scientists study things they cannot see (see http://www.lab-aids.com/catalog.php?item=100). Scientists often study things that cannot be seen - either because they are incredibly small (inside of cells/atoms) or too far away (other galaxies). In such work, scientists must rely on indirect information. Mystery boxes – each with a small steel ball and a raised terrain inside – demonstrate this aspect of science to participants. The students will draw a model and discuss in groups what they think the box looks like inside.

Learning goals/objectives for students: 

Students will be able to understand why scientists use models to help them explain phenomena of things that can't be seen directly  - either with the naked eye or with the help of instruments - due to their very small size ( e.g. atoms, organelles) or very far away distance (e.g. other galaxies, stars).

Students will be able to experience how to propose a model of something that can't be seen based on indirect information gathered from observations and experimentation.

Students will be able to experience making a prediction based on observations and evidence.

Students will gain insights into the process of science and the role the scientific community plays in science.

Content background for instructor: 

Scientists of all disciplines work to understand how the world around us works. Often this requires that they study things that cannot be seen – either with the naked eye, or directly at all - either because what they study is so incredibly small (inside of cells/ atoms) or because it is too far away (other galaxies). Sometimes scientists can use tools to extend their senses, like microscopes or telescopes. Other times they must rely on indirect information - interpreting “detectable” information and trying to piece together what this information tells them about that which they cannot see.

In this investigation, students will have the opportunity to investigate the unseen. Students will use indirect information gathered from experiments they conduct to derive conclusions about their minibox.  Also in this activity students will experience the "scientific community" approach by sharing and discussing their models with other student scientists.

Students are often frustrated by not being able to see the inside of the mini mystery box. Having students construct a model of what they think the inside of the box looks like further models the process of science and is one way to address this frustration. Another possible approach is woking with different models that had been proposed by others, either drawings that show possibilities for the inside terrain or 3-D models.

The fact that there is no right answer and that several models can work should be emphasized.

Getting ready: 

Check out mini mystery boxes from the SEP Resource Center or purchase them. Get other materials listed in "what you need."

You may need to cut the wooden sticks in a variety of lengths for students to use according to their need. Minisaw or another tool will cut the wooden sticks.

Lesson Implementation / Outline

Introduction: 

Get students engaged by asking if they have ever taken a toy or watch apart to see what it looks like inside?  Why did they want to look inside? By trying to understand how the world works, scientists have gone to smaller and smaller sizes and scales where the naked eye or even a microscope is not useful, and also to farther and farther distances in the universe where telescopes can't reach.  Scientists then have to rely on indirect information gathered from experiments. This information is interpreted and a working model is proposed. The model is then tested to test its validity and modifications to the model are made as necessary.

Activity: 

1. Scientific discoveries are made because humans are driven to understand how things work. But many of the things we want to understand are either too small to be seen (atoms, cells, organells) or too large and distant (universe, other galaxies and planets). People make careful observations and do investigations in order to propose models that are then put to the test by themselves and others to reproduce results and observations.

2. Teacher shows a mini mystery box to the students, telling them that it cannot be opened. The inside of the box has a raised terrain and a ball bearing that one can hear when the box is moved. The challenge question is: What does the mini mystery box look like inside?  Students will propose a model of the inside of the box based on what they hear. There are 12 pairs of each type of mini box in each kit.

3. Students are grouped in pairs to draw a model of the inside of the mini box.  Walk around as students discuss and draw their model. Students could be allowed to use little pieces of tape or stickers (not permanent) on the miniboxes to aid their observations.

4. The pair then gets together with the other pair of students that have the same type of mini box. They then present their models to each other and discuss it further to come about with one model for the group. They draw this model on large poster/chart paper.

5. The whole group conference takes place and the models are presented. Encourage your students to ask questions of each other's models and how they came to their conclusions.

6. An extension of this lesson is to have the students build their models out of Petri dishes, wooden sticks, crazy glue, and a small steel ball. This would provide the opportunity to talk about refining the model and how, in science, experiments have to be repeated many times to make improvements.

 

Checking for student understanding: 

Students' understanding can be noted in how they make progress in their discussons and models. In this activity there is no right answer and the inside of the box is not shown at all.

Students can be frustrated by not being able to see the inside of the minibox. Constructing a model is the closest to "looking inside." Another alternative approach is working with possible different models that have been proposed by others.

Emphasis should be given that there is no right answer and that several models can work.

Wrap-up / Closure: 

The closure will be the whole group conference presentations. Students' presentations will show how they have understood the activity.

A model is a representation of the world often based on evidence from experiments. It allows scientists to make predictions, and design further experiments to test the validity of the model – often these new experiments and the evidence that comes from them will force refinement of the model – much as when groups came together in the class conference, you were forced to incorporate the data (and interpretations) of others, and thereby refined your model. This process of refinement through evidence, and discussion/argument is critical for the advancement of scientific knowledge.

Extensions and Reflections

Extensions and connections: 

- An extension of the lesson is to have the students build their models out of Petri dishes, wooden sticks and a small steel ball . This would be the opportunity to talk about refining the model and how in science experiments have to be repeated many times to make improvements.

- Another extension is to give the students drawings of several models that have been proposed. These models can help the students to re-evaluate their model and do more experiments to make refinements of their model.

You can use this activity before teaching about how scientists have come up with models of the atom.

This process and the group interaction (group work and conference to present findings) mimic what scientitsts do at meetings and conferences. That advancement of knowledge is due to refined models and the reproducibility of results. Only when something is reproducible over and over and over does it become accepted as a working model.

Reflections: 

Have the students reflect on what they learned from this activity.

AttachmentSize
Black Box Drawing Sheet.doc33 KB
Black Box Task Card.doc20 KB
internal_terrains_black_box.pdf13.74 KB