Mastering the Mind! How Do You Know What You Know?

28 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT explore the process of learning new information by playing a simulation game called Mastermind.

Big Idea

The game Mastermind simulates how we, as scientists, learn. During this activity, students think about their thinking as they work to break a simple code.


10 minutes

Using the a high-energy discussion technique that is explained in the video Mastermind Lab Engage Narrative and the questions from the Background Information part of the Mastermind Lab, students are engaged in the lesson.  For examples of student responses to these engagement questions, review the Mastering the Mind Student Responses.


10 minutes

The EXPLORE stage of the lesson is to get students involved in the topic so that they start to build their own understanding. To help students explore how they learn, students play the game Mastermind, either the physical version or the online version, in order to experience learning something new.

In Mastermind, a "code maker" sets up a hidden code made of four different colored pegs. The "code breaker" attempts to decipher the code with feedback from the code maker. After each attempt, they learn if they have any pegs in the correct place or of the correct color.  The code breaker breaks the code (learns something new) when they have all of their pegs in the right position and of the correct color.

As students play, I engage students in discussion about how the different factors that make up the game Mastermind simulate or model (Science and Engineering Practice 2: Developing and Using Models) the real learning process. The following questions can help students start making connections:

How are you experimenting to find new information?

What is it that you are trying to learn here?

Who is "controlling" the information in this game? Does someone control information in school?

I also engage students in discussion about the strategies they are using to solve the problem of breaking the code (Science and Engineering Practice 4: Analyzing and Interpreting Data and 5: Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking). We talk about the role of "failure" and what can be learned from "wrong answers"; strategies such as "guess and check"; and deductive reasoning. There is also a connection here to the Crosscutting Concept 1: Patterns that could be an interesting discussion point. Patterns are illustrated by the similarities and differences of color combinations of the pegs that emerge as students play the game. I would call back to this lab when discussing patterns in a future lesson. 


10 minutes

The purpose for the EXPLAIN stage is to provide students with an opportunity to communicate what they have learned so far and figure out what it means.

This stage of the lesson presents a great place for a quick formative assessment. Students complete the Observations/Data section of their Mastermind Lab Sheet.

Extend and Evaluate

15 minutes

The EXTEND stage allows students to apply new knowledge to a novel situation while the EVALUATION stage is for both students and teachers to determine how much learning and understanding has taken place. To accomplish this, students answer two Discussion/Conclusion Questions on their Mastermind Lab Sheet. These questions can help evaluate the depth of thinking students are doing; the ability to make an argument from evidence; scientific writing skills; attitude toward learning and connections between how the game can simulate "real" learning.

An example of a student's written responses can be found here:Mastering the Mind Student Written Conclusions. As can be observed in this student's work, this exercise supports the early development of engaging in argument from evidence (Science and Engineering Practice 7) which is derived from CCSS WHST.6-8.1. For additional support helping students practice creating arguments from evidence, consider this lesson: Writing Arguments from Evidence.

To close this lesson, I find it beneficial to regroup to discuss all of the conclusions students make. What I hope they come to is that real, meaningful learning comes from actively experiencing the world rather than just passively absorbing what books, the internet, or "experts" say. We talk about what it means to be a "critical thinker" and that this is the ideal we want to live up to as scientists.