magnifying glass Observation: The First Step in the Scientific Method

To observe means to examine something and to notice the details. When people observe things, they often wonder
why it is that way or wonder what occurred. Scientists strive to answer that question. They make observations.
This is the first step of the scientific method.

Observations are also called data. There are two kinds of data.

- Qualitative data which are descriptions that do not have numbers.

Don was amazed by what he observed on his first trip to an ocean beach. There was a odor in the air he had never experienced. He noticed the ocean water was several different colors. The sand was cool beneath his bare feet. Debris littered the sand. These are examples of qualitative data.

- Quantitative data are obtained by measuring and have numbers. Scientists use instruments (tools) to obtain numbers based data.

In conducting a bio survey at the local beach, the girls found that there were: 2 sand dunes. One dune was 30 meters long and 3 meters tall. Several species of grass grew in teh dune. They found 52 sea shells lying on the sand. A sorting into similar shapes revealed there were ten different kinds of sea shells. The smallest was 1 centimeter long and shaped like a cylinder. The largest was 10.2 centimeters long and irregularly shaped. There was a dead crab on the beach, too. The shell was dark brown. It had 5 pairs of legs. It also had a 7 centimeter long, narrow tail, with a sharp point at the tip. Elevation - Sea level. Map coordinates Latitude: 39.922086°, Longitude: -74.075244°. These are examples of observations with quantitative data.

Practice observing by examining at this photo from Bryce Canyon, Utah, USA.

bryce canyon

Click here for a closer view. Use the Back Button of your browser to return to this web page.

1. Write your observations - one per line - on a piece of paper.

Make as many visual observations as you can.


2. Imagine - If you were standing at the canyon's edge:

What tools (instruments) might you use to gather quantitative data about what you are observing?


3. Form a question about what you have observed.


4. Prediction - Would you expect to find similar data in a different canyon?


Extend your knowledge:

About Units of Measurement - IB Biology | Temperature facts and figures - IB Biology

Bryce Canyon Geology | Bryce Canyon Photo Tour - USGS | Parks of the Colorado Plateau

Rocks and Minerals Internet Hunt - introduction | Water & Watershed Study Unit

Observation Skills Builders | What is a hypothesis? | Chem4Kids | Geology Mapping

Steps of the Scientific Method - Science Buddies | Learn about the Scientific Method Activity


Milkweed and Monarch Butterfly Mania Journal Entry | Learn about the Scientific Method | Bluebirds Project

Fields, Meadows & Fencerows EcoStudy | Wetlands EcoStudy Unit | Habitat Project Digital Science Journal |

Energy & Alternative Energy Studies | Plants & People | Fun with Stratigraphy wkst

Biodiversity Exploration Investigation | Ecology Community Status in your State's Ecosystem | Lentic and Lotic Ecosystems

Environmental Inquiry | PA Standards Aligned Systems | Science NetLinks

Science Links and Resources | Exploring the Environment modules and activities

meter ruler

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Posted by Cynthia J. O'Hora 10/2013, released for noncommercial use by nonprofit organizations

Aligned with Pennsylvania Academic Standards | Rubric Template at Bernie Dodge site

Pennsylvania Academic Standards - The Nature of Science
Processes, Procedures and Tools of Scientific Investigations
• Apply knowledge of scientific investigation or technological design in different contexts to make inferences to solve problems.
• Use evidence, observations, or a variety of scales (e.g., time, mass, distance, volume, temperature) to describe relationships.

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