Science project

What's in the Box?

  • What are processing skills?
  • What is an inference?
  • What is a hypothesis?
  • Under what kinds of conditions does scientist find themselves compelled to make inferences?
  • Which of the fields of science are extremely dependent on inferential thinking?
  • Given the fact that you are compelled to infer as to the contents of a closed black box, what are some of the strategies you would employ to meet the task?

On the information level, this experiment serves to acquaint students with basic information and experience on the processes of observing, inferring, predicting and formulating a hypothesis. The students are challenged to gather as much data as they can but within a limited context. They cannot observe directly. Based on the use of the other senses and their background experience, they are compelled to hypothesize as to “What is in the Box?”, but may not open the box. It is indeed a challenge to gather whatever information they can and infer what the identity of the object is. This experience is likened to common situations in the various fields of the science where we do not have direct contact with a phenomenon and are compelled to make inferences within the limited parameters.  An exciting, thought provoking project!

  • 6 shoe boxes
  • masking tape
  • Kleenex
  • a marble
  • a pencil
  • a rubber ball
  • a handful of thumb tacks
  • an iron bar magnet
  • a watch (or timer)

These materials are readily available from home and the rest may be borrowed from the science class or purchased from Science Kit. 

  1. Gather all the materials you will need for this project.
  2. Copy the data chart provided below so that you can readily record your observations.
  3. Prepare your shoe boxes by placing each one of the objects or sets of objects in each of the shoe boxes and sealing each box on all sides so that it does not readily open when shaken. What you will have will be the following: a box with a few Kleenex, a box with one marble, a box with one pencil, a box with a rubber ball a box with a handful of tacks and a box with a bar magnet. Number each box and keep a record of the contents of each box.
  4. Select 5 or more of your friends or classmates to serve as subjects for this project.
  5. Reproduce the worksheet provided below to be used by your subjects.
  6. Reproduce the data chart on which you will summarize your results.
  7. Provide your subject with the following directions. You will be given 5 boxes to examine. You are being asked to hypothesize what is in each box but you cannot open the box. For each box, you will record your hypothesis and the rationale for your answer. For example if the box feels very heavy, you might hypothesize that there is a rock in the box. Based on the use of your limited use of your senses, your task is to infer the contents of each of the boxes and record your responses and the reasons for your answer. You will have 5 minutes for inspecting each box and 5minutes for recording your responses and rationales.
  8. Pass out the boxes, set your timer and conduct your experiment.
  9. Gather all of the worksheets and record all of you data in your data chart.
  10. Share the results with your subjects as well as their reactions to the experiment.
  11. Write up your final report. Be sure to include the answers to the research questions as well las your bibliography. Include all data. You may wish to include the subject’s reactions as well as the boxes that were “difficult” and those that were “easy”.

Student Worksheet


            Box #

    My   Inference

What I did to identify

What I discovered






















Data Chart


# of Correct Inferences

Methods Used

# of Errors

Methods Used

































Terms/Concepts: hypothesizing; inferring; predicting; processing skills


  • Johnson, G, Barr, B, Leyden, M, Physical Science, Addison Wesley Publishing Co. Inc.1988
Author: Muriel Gerhard
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Warning is hereby given that not all Project Ideas are appropriate for all individuals or in all circumstances. Implementation of any Science Project Idea should be undertaken only in appropriate settings and with appropriate parental or other supervision. Reading and following the safety precautions of all materials used in a project is the sole responsibility of each individual. For further information, consult your state's handbook of Science Safety.

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