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Student activity - Mystery boxes

Activity idea

In this activity, students determine the contents of a ‘mystery’ box by making observations but without opening it, and parallels are drawn between this activity and aspects of the nature of science.

By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

  • distinguish between observations and inferences or interpretations
  • illustrate how data can be obtained by making non-visual observations
  • explain that scientists pose questions, test and revise hypotheses based on evidence
  • recognise that science is uncertain because it is a human activity
  • understand that science does not prove or conclude – it is always a work in progress
  • demonstrate that science is a collaborative enterprise and that scientific uncertainty can be reduced through collaboration.

Students are unlikely to meet all of the activity objectives at the end of one lesson! They should demonstrate a developing understanding of some of these aspects of the nature of science.

Download the Word file (see link above) for:

  • introduction/background notes
  • what you need
  • what to do
  • extension ideas.


Cavallo, A. (2007). Draw-a-Scientist/Mystery Box. Science and Children, 45(3).

Knott, R.C. & Their, H.D. (1993). Science Curriculum Improvement Study 3 (SCIS 3) series.

Janulaw, S. (n.d.). Mystery boxes for grades 3–5. Retrieved from http://undsci.berkeley.edu/lessons/mystery_boxes.html external link