Poking Around: Having Students Experience the Real Process of Science

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Using indirect methods, learners determine the shape and size of a piece of carpet hidden under a piece of plywood. This activity is an introduction to the process of scientific inquiry and reinforces the concept that scientists often make indirect observations of the phenomena they are attempting to study. This activity also points out that not all scientists follow the same path in such an investigation.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$10 - $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 14 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Plywood, 1/4 inch thick, cut approximately 24 inches square
  • Carpet padding, 1/2 inch thick, cut into a regular polygon approximately 18 inches in diameter
  • Carpet adhesive (e.g. Eastwood Carpet and General Purpose Spray Adhesive)
  • Meter stick


  • Mathematics
    • Measurement
      • Units of Measurement
      • Circles
      • Polygons
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • The Scientific Worldview
      • About Inquiry
      • Asking Questions
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results
    • Science as a Career


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • be mobile
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Stefanski, Mark


  • All rights reserved, The University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley, and The Regents of the University of California, 2010

Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation, EAR-0624436