magnifying glass Observation: The First Step in the Scientific Method

To observe means to look at something and to notice the details. When people observe things they often wonder why it is that way. Scientists try to answer that question. They make observations as the first step to the scientific method.

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

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

There was a black and red, hairy bug on the screen is an example of qualitative data.

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

At 1500 hours GMT Shamokin Dam, Pennsylvania. Observed a female Monarch Butterfly - weight - 500 mg, wing span of 100 mm. feeding on the milkweed blossoms. is an example of quantitative data.

It is important to be a careful observer. The smallest detail can be critical to finding the answer to a question.

Practice observing by looking at this photo. I photographed this plant in August.

How many details you can gather?


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

Make as many observations as you can.


2. Imagine - If you were standing in the scene:

What tools (instruments) would help you to be a better observer?

What tools (instruments) might you use to measure what you are observing?


3. Write at least three questions that you have about what you have observed.


4. Form a hypothesis. (What is a hypothesis?)


“We don't know who discovered water, but we know it wasn't the fish.” Marshall McLuhan

Explore further:

Participate - Monarch Larval Monitoring Project | Milkweed and Monarch Butterfly Mania

About Units of Measurement - IB Biology | Observing Biology how to's

Temperature facts and figures - IB Biology

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

Observation - Science Skills Builders


Bluebirds Project | Fields, Meadows and Fencerows EcoStudy Unit | Wetlands EcoStudy Unit

meter ruler

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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.