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
Father, Physics Teacher, Knowles Fellow, Friend, Techie, and Musician