Science is … a Mystery!

In my last post, I said science is curiosity. Science IS curiosity. Science is also wonder, intrigue, and a mystery. That’s right, science is a mystery! It’s a puzzle, an enigma that must be investigated. Clues need to be found, like pieces to a puzzle, and evidence to support the claim must be gathered. These are things scientists do when they perform experiments. No hocus pocus potion magic. No crystal ball or magic 8-ball. It’s all very methodical like unfolding a mystery. Although, to see some of my students this week, one would think they were shaking a magic 8-ball and listening to it speak to them.

This week as we dive into unpacking the scientific method, we are checking out mystery boxes and trying to discover what is inside them without opening the boxes. The students are using some of their senses and looking for clues to help them find out what is inside 6 little metal boxes. They are shaking and listening to these little containers and recording what they think it sounds like. Using their sense of touch, they are weighing the boxes and using what they know about things to get a sense of what it could be inside the box. And, yes, some are even smelling the boxes to see if there could possibly be food or candy in there. Although, I’ve told them there isn’t anything of the sort in there, that could spoil and go bad, or even worse, attract creepy crawlies. Then they are working together having a mock scientific conference to discuss their thoughts about what could be inside the boxes. They must support their claims with evidence and reasoning. They must come up with their best idea based on their evidence. The students work in groups ruling out ideas that couldn’t be in the boxes and establishing one group answer per box. These answers, then, are written on sticky notes and posted on a chart to be shared with the rest of the class.

Mystery Boxes consensus grid

Each group is given a different color sticky note pad to post their answers to the mystery on.

Each group is given a chance to go and look at all of the possible answers from all of the groups in the chart. Then, another conference is held in which we come to a class consensus about what could be in each of the boxes. All leading up to the big question, when do we open the boxes to see what is really inside? The answer is, never. Absolute silence for about half a second as they ponder the meaning of this statement. Next comes the yelling and disappointment – What?! Why?! I tell them this was a lesson in discovery. And have them stop and think, and write down all the skills and approaches they used to work out what was inside the boxes. This represents how scientists work. Then, I’m asked the question, again, now can we open to boxes to see what’s inside? And, again, the answer is, we don’t. The boxes are to remained sealed and never opened. No one will find out what is really inside. It will remain an unsolved mystery.

This is like the work a scientist does. Scientist never come up with definitive answers to life’s mysteries. Instead, they come up with theories based on the evidence they have at the time. All scientific theories are open to future revision or possible rejection as technology and understanding improves. From this, students learn that science is ever changing and waiting for new discoveries. Until then, science is a mystery.

Albert Einstein once said, “The important thing is to never stop questioning.”

Never stop trying to solve the mystery.


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