These sets of cards are modeled off of an activity by American Educational Products. There are four key features on each card: top number, bottom number, number and shape of middle design, and number of side triangles.
I put together a couple of files so that I could print out sets of these cards in color or in black and white. There are 6 cards on each page so a full set of 24 cards requires 4 printed pages. Some examples of the cards are shown below
I intentionally don't start the class off with any instructions besides "figure out what is on the missing card". From there I walk around and encourage their progress. I typically allow them 3 chances to check if they are correct but I don't give them any specific feedback about what they have right or wrong about their guess. I only tell them if they are correct or not ;)
As it getting closer to the end of class, it is often important to provide small hints to help students make progress towards a successful outcome. Some hints that help are:
The Follow Up
Groups will naturally complete this task at different times. For groups that finish early, I provide them with the following wrap up:
On a piece of paper, record every pattern that exists in your organizational structure
Once all groups have successfully described the missing card, we come back together as a class and discuss the approach that the different groups took when going about this task. If we have time, I show the Mendeleev video posted above and we connect this back to the nature of science and the role that pattern finding has in advancing our understanding of the world around us.
These files contain a version in color and a version optimized for black and white. The only difference is that one will have a rainbow spectrum while the other is gray scale so it can be printed out using a black and white copier. Personally, I have never used the color version since the black and white works just as well but doesn't cost as much to print :)
Science is all about finding patterns.
The basis of the activity is that groups are given a cube with 5 of the 6 sides filled out with letters, numbers, and shapes in some sort of predictable pattern. Their task is to figure out what needs to go on that missing side. There are several examples of this activity posted online (1, 2, 3) but I decided to make my own because I wanted to have multiple levels to challenge all of my students. I have included a printable template at the bottom of this post that can be cut out and folded into cubes.
If you are looking for something a little more durable that will last year after year, I made my set out of some spare 4x4's that I cut up into cubes with laminated side labels. If you don't have access to the materials or tools to make big ones like these, see the end of this post for an update about how to make mini wooden inquiry cubes with craft blocks and address label stickers.
After the introduction, I explain the other three levels of difficulty and let the students work with a partner to decode the missing sides. My role from this point on, is simply as a checkpoint. Students are allowed to present their predictions to me up to 3 times but I will only tell them whether or not they have completed the task 100% correctly or not. Many times, they are only missing one or two small details, but they have recheck all of their work because they don’t receive any clues about where their prediction isn’t matching. This can be very frustrating for anyone but given enough time to struggle through it, every group completes at least one cube before class is over.
To wrap up class, I find that it’s useful to reflect specifically on the process of the challenge itself. There is an excellent TED talk about grit being the key to success, and in many ways, I think this activity brings that out in many students. As stressful and frustrating as this experience can be for some, they recognize that it was through that struggle that they eventually succeeded. This a very powerful message, and one that is easy to reflect back to later on in the year when the different challenges emerge.
Of course, it is also fun to talk about examples of where patterns emerge in science and where patterns show up even though without causation, but I’ll leave that discussion for another post.
Below are the files for the 4 levels of inquiry cubes I designed. Please use and share freely for non-commercial purposes. Please get in touch with me if you have questions or ideas!
UPDATE! Mini Inquiry Cubes
Mini Inquiry Cube Materials
The materials are relatively inexpensive and can be easily found on Amazon to make 50 cubes for under $20.
Address Label Stickers
Printable Sticker Files
There are two primary methods that I use to guide students in a reflection of their identity as a member of a group. Different teachers tend to connect better with one or the other. Using the compass points protocol and color personality assessment to frame our discussion not only helps students reflect on what they contribute in a group setting, it also gives us a common vocabulary to use throughout the year.
After using one of these frameworks, it is useful to have students share out their categorization with rest of the class. Typically, there will be a pretty good mix of personalities represented in the class and it can be a great time to discuss the importance of valuing the different qualities that group members contribute. Each strategy is outlined below:
Compass Points Protocol
To make the challenge a little bit more exiting, I use and adapted version the challenge cards originally created by Liz Larosa on middleschoolscience.com. Instead of just asking students to build a pyramid, they receive a series of challenges to work through at their own pace. Not only does this make the task a little more interesting, it made it so that all students were continuously working even if they were not the first ones to finish a task. The added directions also added a fun element that required students to communicate in non-verbal ways. Rather than giving the groups all challenges at once, I like to award them the next challenge once they can show me that they have complete each task. This allows me to build in more interaction with my students at the beginning of the year.
The Set Up
I typically introduce the task with an opening like this:
"This board game was recently discovered in the back room but there weren't any instructions in the box so we don't know how to play. Luckily, we have a recorded history of 4 different games that were played by players that knew the rules. From these example games, I need you to recreate the list of rules so that we have something to add to the box for the next people that want to play"
After deciphering the games that were provided, each group was asked to write out the rules in as much detail as they could to reference when we compared notes together as a class.
Here are some examples of the rules that my students came up with:
The Follow Up
Groups will naturally finish their rules at different times. I usually encourage them to explore more specific scenarios in their rules but once they have something that is pretty complete, I let them play the game themselves a few times as the rest of the class is finishing up.
Once we came back together as a group, we added to our "Official Classroom Rules" document by each group sharing a rule one at a time until we didn't have anything new left to add. As we went through, different groups realized that the games that they had didn't necessarily represent every possible scenario that would require a rule and we also had some awesome conversations about how we determine if something is a rule or just a common occurrence brought about by the objective.
Ultimately, I close this task by bring the conversation back to how this process resembles the process of science, and more specifically, physics. In physics, the laws of nature were never provided as a list of rules or equations that were just written down somewhere. Instead, the "rules" that we discuss were formulated by observing how nature operates.
There are 4 other games without rules like this one included in David Maloney's post about "Learning the 'Game' of Science". The one that this is based off of is called "SciGame Delta". I found the other ones to be considerably more difficult and, honestly, I wasn't able to completely make sense of any of the others in the time that I spent exploring them. This doesn't mean the the students couldn't do it though. In fact, it could make it that much more exciting of a challenge. :)
This file contains the game board, game pieces, and the records of 4 different games. I printed out the game pieces of red and yellow paper to match with the Y and R designations on the game records but it isn't necessary to figure out the game play.
Father, Physics Teacher, Knowles Fellow, Friend, Techie, and Musician