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Thirteen Ed Online
Lesson Plans
Cool! Awesome! What is it?
Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students

Procedures for Teachers is divided into three sections:
Prep -- Preparing for the Lesson.
Steps -- Conducting the Lesson.
Extensions -- Additional Activities.


  • paper
  • pens
  • envelopes
  • cardboard box with hole cut in top (to hold the envelopes during the week)
  • color printer (optional) -- Students can print out the mystery images to post in the class.
Computer Resources:
You will need at least one computer with Internet access to complete this lesson. While many configurations will work, we recommend:

  • Modem: 28.8 Kbps or faster.
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 3.0 or above or Internet Explorer 3.0 or above.
  • Macintosh computer: System 7.0 or above and at least 16 MBs of RAM.
  • IBM-compatible computer: 386 or higher processor with at least 16 MBs of RAM, running Windows 3.1. Or, a 486/66 or Pentium with at least 16 MBs of RAM, running Windows 95 or higher.

For more information, visit What You Need to Get Connected in wNetSchool's Internet Primer.

The following sites should be bookmarked:

  • Cool Science Images Archive (The Why Files)

    The Why Files offers an archive of science images along with a "who? what? where? when? and how?" section explaining the picture. The following are images from this site:

  • Photo #1

  • Photo #2

  • Photo #3

  • Photo #4

  • Photo #5

  • Photo #6

  • Photo #7

  • Photo #8

  • Photo #9

  • Photo #10


    Time Allotment:
    For the whole class: five minutes a day for 10 weeks.
    For each small group: approximately 10-20 minutes a week.

  • Introduce the activity to the class. Every Monday, for ten weeks, groups of students are presented with a different mysterious scientific image from the Web sites listed. Tell them that the photo will have something to do with science and that many of the photos were taken through a microscope or a telescope. At the end of each week, every group predicts what the image is and explains how they came to their decision. To help students figure out the mystery, one of the small groups gets a sneak peak at the solution and develops four clues for the image. The group then reveals the clues one at a time, Tuesday through Friday. By Friday of each week, the groups must submit an answer where after the informed group reveals the solution. Each group receives a certain number of points based on the accuracy of their answer and how early in the week it was submitted. Finally, the class revisits the photo and compares it to the clues provided during the week. After the tenth week, students develop their own science photo mysteries from scratch and post them on the school's Web site.

  • Divide the class into five groups and randomly label them Group 1 through Group 5. Give four groups an envelope that says Mystery Photo #1, and give the fifth group a Clue Page, in Organizers for Students. Explain that when a group is ready to predict what the mystery photo of the week is, they should write their predictions on a piece of paper and put it in the envelope. Predictions must be accompanied by a rationale.

  • Then let Group #1 look at the answer to mystery photo #1. (The answer can be accessed by clicking the right frame of the Web page, or the teacher can provide a print-out from this section.) You may want to have a discussion with the class about how to write challenging but fair clues. The group that looked at the answer will then work together to write four clues about the photo's identity. They can list their clues on the Clue Page. On Tuesday the informed group will announce clue #1, on Wednesday, clue #2, on Thursday, clue #3, and on Friday, clue #4.

  • Show the class the Scoring Chart, in Organizers for Students. Explain that each group will have an opportunity to make a guess about eight of the 10 images. (They will be developing clues for the other two.) Each group can only make one guess per week and can not change an answer once it is sealed in the envelope. Clarify that the number of points for guessing a correct answer decreases as the week progresses, but that since the photos are difficult, they will probably need at least one or two clues to get the answer right. At the end, the highest possible score is 40 points (8 x 5); the lowest is eight points (8 x 1). If you wish, you may offer a small prize to the group who gets the highest score at the end of the 10 weeks.

    (NOTE: Although this activity is designed for use within a single classroom, it can be adapted for use between two classes that are miles away from each other. In this case, all clues, guesses, and discussion are done via e-mail.)

  • Every Tuesday through Thursday, the informed group gives the class one of the clues. They should write the clues on the Clue Page, in Organizers for Students, and make copies for the class. Cut out each clue to distribute them one at a time.

  • On Friday of each week, the solution is revealed by the student group that developed the clues. Then all the prediction envelopes are opened, the scoring chart is filled in accordingly. Each of the groups' predictions are discussed with the following questions in mind: Did the group guess too early, before they had enough information? How did they arrive at their answer? Which clues were too easy? Which ones were too difficult?

  • After 10 weeks, tally up the scoring chart, and announce the winning group.

  • As a follow-up activity, the entire class could develop their own science photo mysteries from scratch by finding interesting science photos on the Web. If possible, have them post their pictures on the school's Web site. [For a guide on How to Create a Web Site for Your Class, go to wNetSchool's Internet Primer (]

    Answers to all the Photo Mysteries

    Photo #1: The planet Neptune.
    Visit for information on this image and other astronomical facts.

    Photo #2: A prehistoric pollen grain.
    Visit for further information about this image.

    Photo #3: A butterfly's snout.
    Visit for background information on this microscopic image.

    Photo #4: An odd-shaped nebula.
    Visit for information on this telescopic image.

    Photo #5: Some red blood cells.
    Visit for information on this image and other biological facts.

    Photo #6: A "black smoker" venting.
    Visit for more information about this image.

    Photo #7: An influenza virus.
    Visit for information on this photo and a short paragraph about influenza.

    Photo #8: Earth's northern hemisphere during aurora borealis.
    Visit for more information on this ultraviolet image and this natural phenomenon.

    Photo #9: A human macrophage fighting infection.
    Visit for information on this photo.

    Photo #10: An ant.
    Visit for information on this photo and some facts about ants.


    Social Studies:

    To adapt this lesson for social studies, you could do a similar activity with Ameican cities. To Learn more go to:

    Mystery Photo Challenge

    Submit a Comment: We invite your comments and suggestions based on how you used the lesson in your classroom.

    Overview | Procedures for Teachers | Organizers for Students