Saturday, October 15, 2011

Inquiry Cubes and the Scientific Method

As a start to our exploration in chemistry this year, I introduced a fun exercise about how science works.  This comes from a 1998 publication of The National Academies Press, which are free to download, called Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science.

I started off asking what they thought scientists did, and by describing how some use the scientific method.  Next I brought out the cubes to experience some of what this is like.

Cube 1 is numbered just like a 6-sided die; cube 2 (optional) doubles the numbers on a six-sided die, and cube 3 has a more complex pattern.  Have the kids sit in a circle and place cube 1 in the middle with the "5" face down.  Students cannot move it or themselves; they can only observe the cube from their seat.  Have them write down their observations and then let them take turns asking each other questions they would like to know about the parts of the cube they cannot see.  They then come up with a hypothesis as to what is on the bottom.

Cube 1 is the simplest, but I question them about their certainty if they jump to conclusions based not on their evidence but on what they know about dice.  They are then allowed to use some "technology" in the form of a mirror and, lifting the cube only a couple of centimeters, they can peek underneath. Next they do the same for cube 2 with "12" on the bottom.  They may notice that the shaded portions are double the shaded portions in the original cube, and using the technology can verify that.  Finally they try the third cube with Francene on the bottom, which my kids found much more interesting.

After they made all their hypotheses about what was on the bottom and used their technology to verify some of what they thought, I removed the cube without ever showing them what actually was on the bottom.  In science we cannot look up at God and ask, "Am I right?"  Besides, I did this for two groups and I didn't want the first groupto spoil it for the second.  This drove them a little bit crazy, vowing to find the cube and look when they got the chance.  I asked them to reflect (in writing) how this was and was not like what scientists do and that got their mind off of it--for a little bit, anyway.

1 comment:

Eva Varga said...

Oooh! I love this! I am printing the cubes right now! Thank you!! :)