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The 📦 of Mystery

Years ago I attended a zoom meeting at Automattic held by the then VP of Design, John Maeda. John challenged us developers to build a simple website using our software, WordPress, to see what the experience was really like for our users. I love empathy challenges, so I built a website, and I ended up winning a prize for my efforts – a small wooden, magical, box.

The box lived on my desk for years. It typically contained a menagerie of gift cards and credit cards that I didn’t use often. Little bits of tech ended up in there too – you know those little dongles and doo-dads that pile up in life these days.

When my day job migrated from a computer screen to standing in front of rooms full of students – I decided to bring the box along with me, and share it’s ✨magic✨ with the classrooms. That is how The 📦 of Mystery was born.


The first usage of TBOM ( the box of mystery, duh! ) was in a sixth grade math class. I filled the box with neatly stacked Starburst candies, and gave the students clues to figure out the volume equation of how many pieces of candy were in the box. Of course prizes were given for the correct answer, candy, and it was an instant hit!

I started to take TBOM with me every day when subbing. Alongside the box, I had a bag full of oddities from around our house. When I wasn’t in a math classroom, I’d take one of these random things – like an old iPod, a mouth harp from my father-in-law, a cassette tape, or a long-forgotten plush toy of Plex the Robot and place it inside the box. If the class was good throughout the day, I’d give them additional clues to the contents of the box. Correct guessers would be entered into the final prize drawing for the day – the prize being a magical Frank the Unicorn sticker.

It didn’t seem to matter what grade, or subject was being taught – TBOM was always a class favorite.


When I recently took the reigns of teaching Social Studies to 7th and 8th graders for the rest of the school year ( 148 different students to be precise!! WOW!! ) I wanted to capture the curiosity and fun of TBOM and make it part of the classroom rituals. So with a few tweaks to the game play, The History Box of Mystery came to life about a month ago.

The game play is similar to the original version, but spread out over the course of a week of instruction:

  • On Monday the class is given a free clue for the new historical item in the box of mystery.
  • Some weeks an actual THING is in the box, other weeks, a photo or paper representing something historical.
  • If the class does a good job holding up expectations each day ( doing their best, being kind and respectful ) another clue is given.
  • Each student gets one guess per week, submitted via a Google Form.
  • The History Box of Mystery item is then revealed the next Monday, prizes are handed out, including the GRAND PRIZE winner selected from all correct answers by random.
  • Prizes are a trip to the treasure box that is filled with stickers, pencils, candy etc.
  • The grand prize is typically something random from my house 😂

Sound fun? I’m having fun with it:

And it seems the students are too… if I forget to share a clue with a class that has done a good job for the day, I’m eagerly reminded during the last few minutes of the period. This week we also held our ”Open House” Conferences, and many parents shared that their students talk about the weekly mystery at home. That sort of excitement over learning is exactly why I like playing this game. Staying 🤔 curious, and constantly learning are two traits that have taken me far in life, and I’m trying to kindle those flames of curiosity in the classroom.

And did I mention I’m just having lots of fun with the whole thing too? Well I am having SO. MUCH. FUN! Here is the reveal for this week’s mystery box item.


I also like to share with my class the mentality of approaching all things in life as an iterative process. This concept of reflecting on work/processes, then coming up with small changes to try out is common-place in the tech world – and has been serving me well as I’ve been learning to manage a classroom on a daily basis. So the latest iteration of TBOM is to have the grand prize options be housed on a WooCommerce Store 😊.

The store is filled with those ”random things from my house” – namely sticker designs that I have created over the years. I’ve always loved stickers… I still have vivid memories as a child going to Hallmark stores and paying twenty-five cents for small paper sheets of stickers torn off of rolls. Scratch-n-sniff, fuzzy, and puffy stickers were some of my favorites. And I guess I never grew out of my love for stickers.

So grand prize winners will be able to select any two items from the store for their own prize pack. Oh, and some candy too, because that is what makes the middle-school mind tick it seems.


Of course keeping seven periods of middle schoolers stoked out with TBOM prizes comes at a price! Beyond purchasing treats and trinkets for the kids, I’ve also started to buy materials for art projects, and snacks for the occasional ”fun day” in class. And well, my pay as a substitute teacher isn’t quite like what I made back in my days in the tech world… so if you need a little sticker magic in your life, and want to help support Mr. Timmy’s middle school classes, head on over to the Mr. Timmy Store and join in the fun.

Try to find some little ways to add some mystery and magic in your day-to-day. Keep it fun, and be kind to yourself everybody.


A Question for you Friends! Do you happen to have some un-used/needed/wanted schwag in your life? Thinking of my tech days where I’d get all sorts of random stickers, notebooks, pens, keychains, doo-dads, company and product promotional items? I would LOVE to help find forever homes for things like that and would be delighted to pay shipping ( US ) to spread some stoke.

This entry was posted in random.
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