Saturday, December 3, 2011

I Wonder: What’s In the Package? Blog #45

Christmas is coming! I am a champion of guessing what is in all the beautiful packages under my tree! My family has despaired of even trying to trick me; I can simply look at the gift and proclaim its contents. This talent has taken me many years to refine!

I.                    ENGAGE = INITIATE AND PLAN
This week I received a package at school which made me think of setting up an inquiry based lesson. I placed the package strategically on my desk where the students couldn’t help but notice it. Questions such as “What’s in there?”, “Whose that package for?” and “What’s in the box?” were posed ad hoc as the students came into the room and got settled for their lesson.
My response to each question was simply: “I wonder . . .” When students are engaged with a sense of wonder their inquiring minds quickly fill with fabulous questions. It is WONDERful!
We decided that the question we wanted to answer was: “What’s in the Package?” Hence the package contents were the independent variable of our inquiry. What was in there was completely independent of anything we controlled. Opening the package would be the dependent variable, because it would depend on our actions.
In order to solve our inquiry, “What’s in the package?, several wonderful questions were posed:
1.      How big is the box?
2.      How much does it weigh?
3.      Who is it from?
4.      Who is it addressed to?
5.      How was it delivered?
6.      Does it make a sound when it is shaken?
7.      Does it have an odour?
This list of variables could all be observed and measured.
The students worked together to determine the answers to their list of variables. It was determined that:
1.      The box was the size of a small shoe box.
2.      The box was very light.
3.      The box was from Boreal Scientific Suppliers.
4.      The box was addressed to me, their teacher.
5.      The box had been delivered by courier.
6.      There was no sound when though box was shaken.
7.      The only detectable odour coming from the box was one of cardboard.

Now that the information gathering phase of their inquiry was complete the students were ready to do some research before making informed predictions about the contents of the box. Because they had no prior knowledge of the items available from Boreal Scientific I directed them to the web site and allowed them to use the technology they had in their pockets.
Predictions came fast and furious. They included:
Test tubes, clamps, beakers, periodic tables, magnesium ribbon, dissection material!
The students were so engrossed in the possibilities I actually had to cut them short due to time constraints. Honestly, I think they would have been quite happy to look at all the items available from a scientific supplier all day!
It was time for the big reveal! Please make your own prediction before reading any further in this blog!

The box was opened!
A large packing bag full of air was removed!

A small bubble wrapped item was revealed!

What was the item?
Discussion, explanations, and reflections ensued!
Did you guess the contents of the package?
By establishing a fantastic list of questions to guide their inquiry my students demonstrated to me that they were engaged in critical thinking skills. Maybe one day they will be as good at guessing the contents of their Christmas presents as I am! (= real world transfer of skills)


  1. Great activity (as usual) Kay! This would have been a perfect time to use the SS Question Matrix!!


    Dan Bruni

  2. You are absolutely right, Dan! This activity is totally based on the Smarter Science question framework. My students and I are so comfortable with the framework that we do not even use the templates any longer. In my mind's eye I was refering to the "starburst" framework throughout this inquiry.