The Use of Cube Puzzle and Toilet Paper Roll Model in Teaching The Nature of Science

Joel S. Aquino, Gainesville State College, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics),

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This is a hands-on activity in scientific method that uses inexpensive materials such as carton boxes, toilet paper roll tube, strings and toothpicks. It engages the students to conduct pattern observation, prediction, testing and ends up with a model construction. It also encourages thinking outside the box, group discussion and creation of individual cube puzzles.

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Learning Goals

At the end of this lab exercise, the student should be able to :

  • understand the different interactive steps involve in scientific method.
  • recognize shallow level and deeper level patterns
  • ask further questions based on the observed patterns
  • make a prediction based on the observed patterns
  • conduct testing on the validity of these predictions
  • construct a working model
  • understand that science is NOT after the absolute truth but rather its falsifiability
  • understand that science is limited to empirical data and cannot answer all questions

Methods of Geoscience

Using a cube puzzle and toilet paper roll puzzle analogies, students should be able to compare and contrast the methods used by gesoscientists both in the field and the lab. These methods include but not limited to:

  • sample colection and detailed observations of outcrops
  • recognizing, analyzing and interpreting different levels of patterns from limited field/lab observations
  • constructing different working models that explains the field/lab observations
  • predicting the outcomes of these models by either drill testing such as the case in the resource and energy industries

Description and Teaching Materials

"The Use of Cube Puzzle and Toilet Paper Roll Model in Teaching The Nature of Science"

This is an exercise in scientific method that starts with pattern observation and ends up with model construction. The activity starts with letting the class observe the patterns around the five visible sides of a cube and then using these patterns to predict what is on the not visible side. The class is then presented a table to fill-out two columns - a column of observations and a column of questions. With the ensuing class discussion, the students later connect that there are shallow level observations and deeper level observations that can detect hidden but more meaningful patterns. The students are then required to construct their OWN cube puzzles and in turn, the entire class is challenge to solve each other's puzzle.

The second part of this activity allows the class to observe how a toilet paper roll wrapped in electrical tape with protruding string works - when one string is pulled, the other protruding string will retract. The students are required to make a working replica or model of this puzzle. This is related to the working models used by scientist in pursuit of knowledge.

The third part of this lab is watching several clips from the movie "Contact" by Carl Sagan. The movie is an excellent example of how earth-based astronomers were able to detect several levels of patterns coming from an advanced civilization. The deepest pattern represents the blueprint of a "wormhole" machine. Equally important is the message that advanced civilizations think in multiple levels and in multiple dimensions.

The last part of this lab is an application of thinking outside the box where students are given different challenges using toothpicks or skewers. These challenges range from easy, medium to hard such as the ones shown below:

  1. Cross two toothpicks without letting them touch each other (easy level) – students learn that there are different perspectives to look at a problem.
  2. Fit an entire desk inside a square-shaped toothpicks (medium level) – students learn that one has to step back and look at the bigger picture when solving problems.
  3. Construct 4 equilateral diagrams from 6 toothpicks (difficult level) –students learn how to think in 3 dimensions.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This is a 2 day lab (each lab is about 3 hrs).


Students are expected to create their OWN "cube" puzzles that is graded according to the complexity of patterns, inter-connectedness of these patterns, creativity, neatness and presentation.

Students are also required to construct a working model of the toilet paper roll puzzle. These replicas are graded on how close they are to the original model.

References and Resources

The first two mini-activities were taken from a teacher workshop at Brenau University (~2008).