part and has equal access to everyone else’s thinking, with help from Ms. Winter to keep the discussion on track. In addition, the Mystery Box activity can be played in many different ways and can be used to classify many different kinds of objects over the course of the school year. This activity can help students become thoughtful and logical questioners and data analysts.
The Mystery Box is an activity that supports logical or deductive reasoning practices. The implicit reasoning of the students as they play is as follows: We know that what’s in the Mystery Box is not a plastic spoon. We also know it’s not the plastic fork, the metal fork, or the wooden fork. Therefore, we have figured out that what’s in the Mystery Box must be a metal spoon or a wooden spoon, because they’re the only choices left.
In contrast, the proposed measurement activity in Ms. Martinez’s kindergarten class (Chapter 1) would be considered an “empirical investigation.” In that case, the students tested a prediction: “Measuring with shoes on would make a difference in measurement.” They would need to examine evidence to suggest a pattern and then interpret the pattern to decide if their prediction was correct or not. They would thus be arranging the world (selecting, lining up, and measuring shoes) in order to learn something about it. They would have to collect measurement data, organize the data in some way, and then decide, based on their evidence, whether wearing shoes made a difference or not. The data might prove difficult to interpret (most shoes are the same but a few are different), and the students might never be as certain of the right answer as they are with the Mystery Box activity. Generalizations about the empirical world are never certain. You cannot “prove” generalized conclusions via observation. Moderating uncertainty is central to scientific thinking. Unlike proof in mathematics, there is no absolute certainty in science.
The skills the students are learning in the Mystery Box activity—making sense of, categorizing, and reasoning with available information—are key to asking good questions and formulating good hypotheses. And of course the students are also learning to participate in discussions with peers. That is, they are learning the norms of participation in science and how to handle uncertainty together.