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Mystery Boxes for Grades 3-5

Source Institutions

    University of California Museum of Paleontology

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Mystery Boxes for Grades 3-5

Learners manipulate opaque, sealed boxes and attempt to determine their interior structures. Each box contains a moving ball and one or more fixed barriers. Use this activity to introduce students to the scientific process--scientists make observations and collect evidence, scientists interpret evidence, scientists must work together to gain consensus about interpretations. This activity has been adapted for grades 3-5 from the ENSI lesson, Mystery Boxes: Uncertainty & Collaboration.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 11

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Each "Mystery Box" is a rigid, permanently sealed, opaque, rectangular box with one or two glued-in partitions, ramps, etc., and a rolling sphere (e.g. a marble or steel ball).
  • Paper and pencils to draw guesses of interior of boxes


  • 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:

  • hear
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Janulaw, Sharon


  • 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