Inquiry Exercises

Click on links below to view or download inquiry exercises. These are science and math exercises that we have developed for grades 4 through 12 that promote inquiry-based learning in the classroom.

Animal Diversity

Grade range: 5-12
Each student researches a particular group of organisms, creates a three-dimensional model that stresses some interesting aspect of that group, and then makes an oral presentation to the rest of the class.
View/Download PDF

An Apple a Day

Grade range: 5-12
Students are presented with an apple and are asked to draw it. In each subsequent class period they are asked to draw the same apple again. In this way, they watch and record the changes the apple goes through as it decays.
View/Download PDF

Before and After

Grade range: 5-12
Students are asked to identify something, A, that changes into something else, B. They are asked to makea model of B (preferably three-dimensional), and make a presentation including information about the causes and mechanisms of this change. This can be in a biological context, an art context, or a technological context. Origami is used as an illustrative analog of morphogenesis (“form creation”).
View/Download PDF

Bridges

Grade range: 5-12
Each student builds the lightest-weight bridge he or she can that spans a 24-inch space between two supports. The bridge must be made from simple materials and must be able to support a standard brick (about five pounds). In the process, students formulate the basic engineering principles of bridge design.
View/Download PDF

Clay Boats

Grade range: 5-12
Each student uses a small quantity of modeling clay to make a boat that will float in a tub of water. The object is to build a boat that will hold as much weight as possible without sinking. In the process of designing and testing their boats, students discover some of the basic principles of boat design and gain first-hand experience with concepts such as buoyancy and density.

This exercise can stand alone as a process skill activity, or it can be used as an introduction to the topics of density and/or buoyancy, which are addressed in the exercises Floaters and Sinkers and What Floats Your Boat? We recommend that the exercise Paper Towers, be done prior to this one, since the concept of center of gravity may be helpful to students when they analyze their successful and unsuccessful boat designs.
View/Download PDF

Factors Affecting Friction

Grade range: 7-12
This is an exercise about friction that is meant to follow the exercise Sliding and Stuttering. Using the same experimental apparatus of the previous exercise, students design and conduct experiments to answer two questions, “Does the weight of an object affect the amount of friction between it and surface it slides upon, and if so, how?” and “Does the amount of surface in contact affect the amount of friction between an object and the surface it slides upon, and if so, how?”
View/Download PDF

Find Your Peanut

Grade range: 5-12
Each student is given a peanut and is asked to study it carefully. All the peanuts are then placed in a bag and mixed up. Students are then asked to find their own peanuts.
View/Download PDF

Floaters and Sinkers

Grade range: 5-12
Students will gain an intuitive understanding of density by comparing objects of equal volumes but which have different masses. They will then use two different methods to determine the densities of a variety of materials and objects. The first method involves direct measurement of the volume of objects that have simple shapes, while the second uses the water displacement method to determine the volumes of irregularly-shaped objects. This exercise is intended to follow the exercise Clay Boats.
View/Download PDF

Hot Cans and Cold Cans

Grade range: 6-12
Students will investigate and apply the simple physics of heating and cooling to a controlled situation requiring that they keep one mass of water warm, and cool another, equal mass of water, using only common everyday materials.
View/Download PDF

How Much Sugar Is in Bubble Gum?

Grade range: 6-12
Most of the flavoring in gum is due to the sugar or other sweetener it contains. As gum is chewed, the sugar dissolves and is swallowed. After a piece of gum loses its flavor, it can be left to dry at room temperature and then the difference between its initial (unchewed) mass and its chewed mass can be used to calculate the percentage of sugar in the gum. This demonstration experiment is used to generate new questions about gums and their ingredients, and students can then design and execute new experiments based on their own questions.
View/Download PDF

Mark-Recapture Sampling

Grade range: 5-12
This exercise is a simulation of a classic technique used for estimating the size of animal populations. Using small objects such as beads or dried beans, students will randomly select and then mark a sample population. After these marked individuals are mixed back in with the rest of the objects, students again sample the population, making note of the number of marked objects “caught” a second time. The concepts of ratio and proportion are then used to estimate the total number of objects.
View/Download PDF

Measurement and Variation

Grade range: 5-12
In these exercises, students will make careful observations in order to make individual identifications and also to explore the range of variation in a particular biological structure (peanuts). When trying to measure variation, scientists are often confronted with special problems. When they make their measurements, variations may arise that are caused by the measuring tools. Or sometimes variations arise due to the foibles of the measurers! Students will explore these problems as well.
View/Download PDF

Paper Towers

Grade range: 5-12
Each student makes a tower using two sheets of newsprint and ten inches of transparent tape. The object is to build the tallest tower that will resist being blown over by the teacher from one arm’s length away. In the process, students formulate the basic engineering principles of tower design.
View/Download PDF

Sliding and Stuttering

Grade range: 7-12
Students use a spring scale to drag an object such as a ceramic coffee cup along a table top or the floor. The spring scale allows them to measure the frictional force that exists between the moving cup and the surface it slides on. By modifying the bottom surface of the cup, students can find out what kinds of surfaces generate more or less friction.
View/Download PDF

Structure and Function

Grade range: 5-12
Students choose some biological object, examine its structure, and identify or speculate on one particular function. Next they create a blueprint of the object, focusing on the particular function. Then they create an abstraction of the object, and finally, create a piece of art based on the object.
View/Download PDF

Tutti Frutti

Grade range: 5-12
Students are presented with a wide array of “fruits” to examine and are asked to find the one that is different. The odd one is actually not a fruit, but looks like one. Through exploring the various fruits, students come to understand the difference between homologous and analogous structures.
View/Download PDF

What’s Going on Here?

Grade range: 5-12
Students are shown photographs, slides, or overhead transparencies of a natural phenomenon. After making careful observations, they are asked to infer how the phenomenon occurred.
View/Download PDF

Math Games and Exercises

Bagels, Pico, Fermi

Grade range: 4-12
In this number game, students work as a class to figure out a three-digit mystery number. Students use logic and the process of elimination to find the answer. It is a great time filler when there are 10 minutes left in class, and once students learn the rules, they can lead the exercise themselves.
View/Download PDF

Fill the Number Grid

Grade range: 5-12
This is a math game to be played by a whole class. The teacher draws a 12 X 12 number grid on the chalkboard, though only two or three entries are actually displayed in the grid. The class as a group must fill the grid according to a predetermined rule that they must discover during the filling process.
View/Download PDF

New Boxes from Old

Grade range: 7-10
Students take a rectangular box (e.g., a cereal box) and cut it up to make a new, cubical box with the same volume as the original. In so doing, they will discover that because the cubical box has less surface area than the original, a cube is a more efficient way to package things. To display their work, students design and construct a mobile, to be hung from a ceiling at school or at home.
View/Download PDF

What’s the Bug?

Grade range: 5-12
This math game is played by a whole class. Students are presented with arithmetic calculations that contain specific errors (improper carrying, left justification instead of right justification, working a problem from left to right instead of right to left). Their job is to identify the error and then make the same mistake in a new example without giving away the nature of the error to the rest of the class.
View/Download PDF

What’s the Rule?

Grade range: 5-12
This math game is played by a whole class. The teacher turns one number into another using some combination of arithmetic operations. The object is for the students to figure out the rules and then perform those same operations on a new number without giving away the rules themselves.
View/Download PDF