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 large, 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 1100 hours GMT Shamokin Dam, Pennsylvania. Observed a butterfly wing span of 5.1 cm., feeding on the purple Agastache blossoms. This 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 animal in July.

How many details you can gather?

unknown caterpillar

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?)


“If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies.” Author Unknown

Explore further:

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Painted Lady Butterflies worksheet | Photos of life cycle

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

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

Observation - Science Skills Builders


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meter ruler

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Cynthia J. O'Hora Posted 2/2013, released to free use in a nonprofit setting.
Aligned with Pennsylvania Academic Standards Science | Rubric Template at Bernie Dodge site

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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.