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UPC Science: The Real Prize Inside
written by Rebecca Vieyra
content provider: Robert J. Beichner, Mary Bridget Kustusch, and Jon D. H. Gaffney
This lesson promotes understanding of scientific inquiry as students analyze patterns in UPC barcodes to decipher the meaning of numerical relationships in the codes. It integrates physics and information technology as learners use observational techniques to figure out the "language" of barcodes through close analysis of barcode symbols found on common household products. The culminating task is to determine which classmates' hypotheses can be disproved (science accepts or rejects ideas based on evidence; it does not "prove" ideas.) The lesson was inspired by an article in The Physics Teacher magazine: "The Real Prize Inside: Learning about Science and Spectra from Cereal Boxes" by M. Kustusch, J. Gaffney, and R. Beichner. See Related Materials for a link to read the article at no cost.
Editor's Note: The lesson is turn-key: it includes unmarked barcodes needed to perform the task, numeric code key, and rules about UPC codes. It also provides a Student Guide and problem set with answer key.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Education Practices
- Active Learning
= Cooperative Learning
= Inquiry Learning
Oscillations & Waves
- Wave Motion
= Transfer of Energy in Waves
Other Sciences
- Computer Science
- Mathematics
- High School
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Student Guide
- Assessment Material
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- Assessment
- New teachers
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Access Rights:
Free access
This material is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.
Rights Holder:
American Association of Physics Teachers
digital technology, information technology, laser scanner, scanner, scanning device, scientific process
Record Creator:
Metadata instance created October 31, 2016 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
October 25, 2017 by Bruce Mason
Last Update
when Cataloged:
July 15, 2016

Next Generation Science Standards

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Information Technologies and Instrumentation (PS4.C)
  • Multiple technologies based on the understanding of waves and their interactions with matter are part of everyday experiences in the modern world (e.g., medical imaging, communications, scanners) and in scientific research. They are essential tools for producing, transmitting, and capturing signals and for storing and interpreting the information contained in them. (9-12)

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

Patterns (K-12)
  • Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns. (9-12)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (K-12)

Analyzing and Interpreting Data (K-12)
  • Analyzing data in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to introducing more detailed statistical analysis, the comparison of data sets for consistency, and the use of models to generate and analyze data. (9-12)
    • Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution. (9-12)
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions (K-12)
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 9–12 builds on K–8 experiences and progresses to explanations and designs that are supported by multiple and independent student-generated sources of evidence consistent with scientific ideas, principles, and theories. (9-12)
    • Construct and revise an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students' own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future. (9-12)
Engaging in Argument from Evidence (2-12)
  • Engaging in argument from evidence in 9–12 builds on K–8 experiences and progresses to using appropriate and sufficient evidence and scientific reasoning to defend and critique claims and explanations about natural and designed worlds. Arguments may also come from current scientific or historical episodes in science. (9-12)
    • Construct an oral and written argument or counter-arguments based on data and evidence. (9-12)
Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information (K-12)
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to evaluating the validity and reliability of the claims, methods, and designs. (9-12)
    • Communicate scientific ideas (e.g. about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (including orally, graphically, textually, and mathematically). (9-12)
Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (5-12)
  • Mathematical and computational thinking at the 9–12 level builds on K–8 and progresses to using algebraic thinking and analysis, a range of linear and nonlinear functions including trigonometric functions, exponentials and logarithms, and computational tools for statistical analysis to analyze, represent, and model data. Simple computational simulations are created and used based on mathematical models of basic assumptions. (9-12)
    • Use mathematical representations of phenomena or design solutions to support and revise explanations. (9-12)

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

2. The Nature of Mathematics

2A. Patterns and Relationships
  • 9-12: 2A/H2. As in other sciences, simplicity is one of the highest values in mathematics. Some mathematicians try to identify the smallest set of rules from which many other propositions can be logically derived.
2B. Mathematics, Science, and Technology
  • 9-12: 2B/H3. Mathematics provides a precise language to describe objects and events and the relationships among them. In addition, mathematics provides tools for solving problems, analyzing data, and making logical arguments.
  • 9-12: 2B/H4b. The development of computer technology (which itself relies on mathematics) has generated new kinds of problems and methods of work in mathematics.

3. The Nature of Technology

3A. Technology and Science
  • 9-12: 3A/H2. Mathematics, creativity, logic, and originality are all needed to improve technology.

9. The Mathematical World

9E. Reasoning
  • 9-12: 9E/H6. A failure to find an exception to a generalization after reviewing a large number of instances increases the confidence in the accuracy of the generalization.

12. Habits of Mind

12B. Computation and Estimation
  • 9-12: 12B/H9. Consider the possible effects of measurement errors on calculations.
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Record Link
AIP Format
R. Vieyra, , 2016, WWW Document, (https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14166&DocID=4527).
R. Vieyra, UPC Science: The Real Prize Inside, 2016, <https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14166&DocID=4527>.
APA Format
Vieyra, R. (2016). UPC Science: The Real Prize Inside. Retrieved August 14, 2022, from https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14166&DocID=4527
Chicago Format
Vieyra, Rebecca. "UPC Science: The Real Prize Inside." 2016. https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14166&DocID=4527 (accessed 14 August 2022).
MLA Format
Vieyra, Rebecca. UPC Science: The Real Prize Inside. 2016. 14 Aug. 2022 <https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14166&DocID=4527>.
BibTeX Export Format
@techreport{ Author = "Rebecca Vieyra", Title = {UPC Science: The Real Prize Inside}, Month = {July}, Year = {2016} }
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%A Rebecca Vieyra %T UPC Science: The Real Prize Inside %D July 15, 2016 %U https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14166&DocID=4527 %O application/pdf

EndNote Export Format

%0 Report %A Vieyra, Rebecca %D July 15, 2016 %T UPC Science: The Real Prize Inside %8 July 15, 2016 %U https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14166&DocID=4527

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UPC Science: The Real Prize Inside:

Is Based On The Real Prize Inside: Learning About Science and Spectra from Cereal Boxes

A link to the free-access article in The Physics Teacher journal which inspired the development of this lesson.

relation by Caroline Hall

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