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  • In this activity, students determine the contents of a ‘mystery’ box by making observations but without opening it, and parallels are drawn between this activity and aspects of the nature of science.

    By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

    • distinguish between observations and inferences or interpretations
    • illustrate how data can be obtained by making non-visual observations
    • explain that scientists pose questions, test and revise hypotheses based on evidence
    • recognise that science is uncertain because it is a human activity
    • understand that science does not prove or conclude – it is always a work in progress
    • demonstrate that science is a collaborative enterprise and that scientific uncertainty can be reduced through collaboration.

    Students are unlikely to meet all of the activity objectives at the end of one lesson! They should demonstrate a developing understanding of some of these aspects of the nature of science.

    Download the Word file below for:

    • introduction/background notes
    • what you need
    • what to do
    • extension ideas.

    Related content

    Observation is essential in science. Like most skills, observation improves with practice and knowledge. Explore this further in the article Observation and science.

    Activity ideas

    Below are more activities to help students ‘warm-up’ and stretch their observations skills. They are also ideal for practising the science capabilities ‘Gather and interpret data’ and ‘Use evidence’. Use our search to find more activities using observation.

    Professional learning development

    Take a look at our professional learning development webinar recordings to learn more about Developing an eagle eye and Making sense of what we see.


    Cavallo, A. (2007). Draw-a-Scientist/Mystery Box. Science and Children, 45(3).

    Knott, R.C. & Their, H.D. (1993). Science Curriculum Improvement Study 3 (SCIS 3) series

    Janulaw, S. (n.d.). Mystery boxes for grades 3–5. Retrieved from

    Useful link

    Understanding Science is an educational website for teaching and learning about the nature and process of science. It has an interactive flowchart that represents the process of scientific inquiry, with links to relevant teaching and learning resources.

      Published 7 October 2011 Referencing Hub articles
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