Teaching science when you don't know diddly-squat: Do moms really have eyes in the back of their heads?


March 6, 2017 -


The purpose is not to teach specific content, but to teach the process of science – asking questions and discovering answers. This activity encourages young people to try to figure things out for themselves rather than just read an answer on the internet or in a book. As a leader, try not to express your opinion, but let the youth engage in arguments based on evidence.

Time required

20 minutes or multiple days depending on the interest and questions the youth have.


  • One or more mothers with their own children
  • Adults who are not mothers
  • Nonrelated children
  • Lots of cookies
  • Pencil
  • Paper

Science Practice:

Asking questions and defining problems

1. Ask the youth: Do moms know what their kids are doing without seeing them? It is something many children have suspected when their moms catch them doing something they shouldn’t. Is there a way to test this? Are moms better than other adults at knowing which children are engaged in bad behavior? Are they better at catching their own children?

Science Practice:

Planning and carrying out investigations

2. Tell the youth that they are not supposed to eat any cookies. Place the cookies on the table. Have the mother in a place where she cannot see the children or the cookies. (She could simply have her back turned.) Have both the related and nonrelated children try to sneak a cookie. If the mother calls out a specific child’s name when he or she sneaks a cookie, the child has to put the cookie back. Track who gets cookies and who gets caught using the table below.

Science Practice:

Analyzing and interpreting data

3. Run the experiment several times with different adults. Create the following chart on a piece of paper and fill it out:

Cookie Sneaking Experiment


Mom’s children caught

Other children caught

Mom’s children not caught

Other children not caught

Mom 1




















Science Practice:

Using mathematics and computational thinking

4. Can you calculate what percent of times moms caught their own kids?

Science Practice:

Constructing explanations and designing solutions

5. Were moms better at catching their own children? Were moms better than others at catching the cookie stealers? 

Science Practice:

Engaging in argument from evidence

6. Would you say moms have an ability to know when their kids are misbehaving based on this experiment? Why or why not?

Other thoughts:

  • Could you run this test to see if kids are good at catching adults misbehaving?
  • Are certain professions better at being sneaky than others (such as private investigators, police detectives or other professions)? Could you test this question?
  • Can moms predict bad behavior in adult children? 
  • Do grandparents have the ability to predict this behavior?

Science & Engineering Practices

These eight Science and Engineering Practices come from A Framework for K–12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012, p. 42). These research-based best practices for engaging youth in science are connected to in-school science standards that all children must meet.

  • Asking questions and defining problems
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  •  Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using mathematics and computational thinking
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information


National Research Council. (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.


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