magnifying glass Observation: The First Step in the Scientific Method

To observe something means to examine it carefully. Good observers notice lots of details. When people observe things they often wonder why it is that way. Scientists try to answer that question. Scientists make observations as the first step to the scientific method.

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

- Qualitative data are descriptions that do not have numbers.

The school building shook so hard that many library books fell from the shelves. - is qualitative data.

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

The earthquake on 2/8/08 at 06:38:14 AM lasted 35.2 seconds. It was scored a magnitude 6.9 at the epicenter 10.733°N, 41.884°W on the Richter magnitude scale, is quantitative data.

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

Practice observing by looking at this photo.
Mike was happy to travel the new highway. During the trip he saw this along the side of the road.


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

pencil right1. Write your observations.



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

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

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


3. Fire up your imagination or your curiosity.
Write a hypothesis
about what you have observed.
(What is a hypothesis?)


4. Name a place in your community where you could directly observe an interesting geologic feature.


5. TAI (Think About It) Do you expect that this will be the same from one day to the next day or a week later?

What natural forces will change what you see?


Journey further:

About Units of Measurement - IB Biology | Rock Classification | Careers in Geoscience

Observing with the Eyes of a Geologist | Geology Careers Exploring the Possibilities

Geology - Windows to the Universe | Earth Layers Internet activity | Stratigraphy

Observation Science Skills Builders- index

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


“We learn geology the morning after the earthquake” Ralph Waldo Emerson


Geology of Pennsylvania | Water and Air - NASA | Bluebirds Project | Rocks for Kids | Rockhounds

meter ruler

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Posted by Cynthia J. O'Hora 10/2008, released for noncommercial use by nonprofit organizations
Aligned with Pennsylvania Academic Standards Science & Technology, Reading & Writing, Career Education and Work

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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.

National Science Education Standards:
CONTENT STANDARD G: As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of:

Scientific explanations must meet certain criteria. First and foremost, they must be consistent with experimental and observational evidence about nature, and must make accurate predictions, when appropriate, about systems being studied. They should also be logical, respect the rules of evidence, be open to criticism, report methods and procedures, and make knowledge public. Explanations on how the natural world changes based on myths, personal beliefs, religious values, mystical inspiration, superstition, or authority may be personally useful and socially relevant, but they are not scientific.

Because all scientific ideas depend on experimental and observational confirmation, all scientific knowledge is, in principle, subject to change as new evidence becomes available. The core ideas of science such as the conservation of energy or the laws of motion have been subjected to a wide variety of confirmations and are therefore unlikely to change in the areas in which they have been tested. In areas where data or understanding are incomplete, such as the details of human evolution or questions surrounding global warming, new data may well lead to changes in current ideas or resolve current conflicts. In situations where information is still fragmentary, it is normal for scientific ideas to be incomplete, but this is also where the opportunity for making advances may be greatest.