administration student task rubric student work technical quality
Mystery Boxes
Administration Procedures
Contributed by: Illinois Science Teachers Association (ILS)


Students make observations then identify an unknown.

The task assesses primary students' ability to observe differences and similarities and make inferences.

This task is designed to take students approximately 8 minutes to complete.

Overall Task Content Area:

Physical Science

Specific Knowledge Areas:

Properties of Objects and Materials

Performance Expectations:

  • conducting investigations
  • applying scientific principles to develop explanations and solve new problems

National Science Education Standards:

4 A SI 1: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry: Grades K-4

1.4 Use data to construct a reasonable explanation. This aspect of the standard emphasizes the students' thinking as they use data to formulate explanations. Even at the earliest grade levels, students should learn what constitutes evidence and judge the merits or strength of the data and information that will be used to make explanations. After students propose an explanation, they will appeal to the knowledge and evidence they obtained to support their explanations. Students should check their explanations against scientific knowledge, experiences, and observations of others.

1.5 Communicate investigations and explanations. Students should begin developing the abilities to communicate, critique, and analyze their work and the work of other students. This communication might be spoken or drawn as well as written.

4 B PS 1: Properties of Objects and Materials: Grades K-4
1.1 Objects have many observable properties, including size, weight, shape, color, temperature, and the ability to react with other substances. Those properties can be measured using tools, such as rulers, balances and thermometers.

(Use the "hot" link on the PALS home page to check the full text of related National Science Education Standards, if desired.)

General Instructions to the Teacher:

This task is designed to take students approximately 8 minutes to complete.

Students will be working individually during this exercise.

Students should be ready to work as soon as the period begins. The materials should be set out at each lab station, if possible. A central supply area, if needed, should be easily accessible. All supplies should be clearly labeled.

Materials for "Mystery Boxes":

The teacher will need:

  • marker
  • boxes
  • tape
  • marbles
  • washers

At this station students should have:

  • Three boxes, labeled A, B, and C

Advance Preparation:

  • Label boxes A, B, and C and mark them "DO NOT OPEN."
  • Place a washer in Box A.
  • Place marbels in Boxes B and C.
  • Tape boxes shut.
  • Place all materials on top of table.


  • Be careful.
  • Teachers and students should always exercise appropriate safety precautions and utilize appropriate laboratory safety procedures and equipment when working on science performance tasks.


  • Mystery Boxes is one part of a five part assessment that was administered in Illinois. The other 4 stations are "Measurement: Length, volume, and temperature," "Measurement: Using the balance," "Classification," and "Magnetic Testing."

Advanced Preparation Set Up:

Place items in boxes.

Label and tape shut boxes.


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