Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Riddle and Mystery: A Program on the Big Questions for Grade 6

Activity 1: Playing Detective

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Writing paper and pencils for small groups
  • Leader Resource 1, Mysteries
  • Timepiece
  • A poster of the Unitarian Universalist Sources, or, copies of Session 1, Leader Resource 1
  • Optional: Bell, tingsha chimes or other sound instrument
  • Optional: Newsprint, markers and tape

Preparation for Activity

  • Decide how you will form small groups of three or four.
  • Review Leader Resource 1. Print out a copy for each small group and/or write the questions on newsprint, and post.
  • Optional: Familiarize yourself with a few creation stories. Find some in the illustrated book In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World, told by Virginia Hamilton (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988).

Description of Activity

Invite the youth to work in small groups to solve mysteries including the mystery of how life began.

Ask if participants enjoy mysteries and detective stories in books, movies or television shows. Say you have a few mysteries you want them to solve. Tell them they will work in small groups and present each solution in the form of a story that explains the mystery.

Form groups of three of four participants and give each group paper, pencils and a copy of Leader Resource 1 (or, direct their attention to the posted list of mysteries). Explain that the paper is for making notes; they need not write out their stories in full detail. Tell them they will have about eight minutes to prepare two stories-one story that solves mystery number 6 and one that solves any other of the mysteries listed. Tell them you will let them know when four minutes are up so they can switch to their second mystery. They may try to solve additional mysteries if they have time.

Separate groups so they cannot overhear one another, then signal them to begin. Signal when four minutes have passed. After another four minutes, bring the groups together and invite them to share stories as time allows.

When they have finished sharing, say that billions of people, maybe most people who have ever lived, have wondered how life began. So, over time there have been many, many solutions offered to the sixth mystery. Note that you will share another explaining story in the next activity.

As appropriate, note that the youth have acted not only as detectives, but also as scientists, using the concept of cause and effect. They started knowing what the effect was and then tried to trace its cause. This what the earliest people did: They saw that life existed, then created stories and myths to explain what had caused it to be-where life came from.

Point out the posted UU Sources or distribute copies of Session 1, Leader Resource 1 for youth to share. Ask them to think about which Sources might tell us how life begins. Almost certainly somebody will quickly suggest science. If not, do so yourself. Ask the group how science could help answer the question. Affirm responses.

Ask the group how science works. Ask if anybody can explain "scientific method." (Many sixth graders study this subject in school.) Explain in your own words:

Scientists begin an inquiry by defining what they want to know-framing a question. Then they make a guess, called a "hypothesis," about what the answer might be. Next, they set up an experiment to see if the hypothesis is right. If the experiment shows the hypothesis is correct, then scientists say the idea has been scientifically proved. If not, they make a new hypothesis-maybe even a different question-and try again.

Even when scientists have proved something, they know they must be ready to change their minds later, if different experiments show different answers. A hypothesis must be tested more than once. Results are not valid unless others who try it obtain the same results. If they do not, something is wrong needs more thought and experimenting.

Ask participants if they can define a scientific theory. Affirm that a theory is not a fact. It is an explanation about the world and how it works that scientists shape-using all the facts they know and the hypotheses they have proved so far-and then try to prove by doing and analyzing more experiments.

Ask youth how the scientific method of solving a mystery differs from using faith and religious belief, which they have talked about in previous sessions. The answer most useful for sixth graders lies in experiments and proof.


  • Which of your stories show that your group used scientific method to solve a mystery? Which show the group used faith, belief or imagination? Which stories could be proved to solve the mystery, and which could not?
  • Can all the big questions be answered through scientific method?

(Can science prove whether God exists? The answer is "no." Some people have tried to prove God exists, but none can offer proof that everybody else accepts. The idea that God does exist is a belief, and some scientists have that belief. In fact, Nature magazine did a survey in 1997 in which 40 percent of scientists believed that God exists.

Say that today's story talks about the scientific theory of evolution.