The Mystery Tube

The Mystery Tube, a science project recently taught to sixth graders, is one of many ways Burke’s inspires students to develop resilience, patience, and scientific creativity.

At first glance, the cardboard tube with strings hanging from two sets of holes at the top and bottom appeared easy to understand. Pull the top string and the opposing side shortens as expected. But pulling the shortened string causes one of the lower sets of strings to shorten in a way that defies logic. (Click here for a sneak peek into the classroom to see the Mystery Tube in action!) Both ends of the tube were taped over providing no visibility into the mechanism — a perfect start to scientific exploration.
It was challenging to describe the internal mechanism in words, so the students drew their hypotheses. Burke’s science classes use experiential and inquiry-based methods, so the next step was to have students choose from an assortment of materials to build the mechanism. As the class neared its end, students would approach their science teacher Dr. Rawlings with their Mystery Tubes to ask, “Is this right?”
This is a favorite point in the process for Dr. Rawlings, “I say to the students that there is no ‘right’ in science. Our data points to the truth, but will never give us the absolute truth. All you can do is test the hypothesis.”
According to Dr. Rawlings, “This particular activity is not about being right or wrong. I want to see that the students can explain what they have done and whether there is reason to reject or accept the hypothesis. Sometimes students come back during conference with five different hypotheses to discuss. It’s an exercise in collecting data — and the more data we collect, the more our perspective can shift based on new information. It’s a balance of seeking answers, but maintaining a flexible mind. I say that is exactly what science is all about.”
Burke's mission is to educate, encourage and empower girls. Our school combines academic excellence with an appreciation for childhood so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community, and fulfill their potential, now and throughout life.

Katherine Delmar Burke School

An independent K–8 school for girls
7070 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94121
Phone: 415.751.0177 Fax: 415.666.0535
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