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.

There were many different kinds of trees, of various sizes, growing in the park.
One of the trees was enormous is an example of qualitative data.

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

In conducting a tree survey in the local park , the scouts found that there were: 4 white pines, 2 blue spruce and one hemlock. They also counted 20 white oaks including 4 seedlings and 6 saplings, as well as two sugar maples. By using proportion and scale , they determined 1 sugar maple was 33 meters tall. It had a circumference of 525.25 cm. The second was 32 meters tall. These are examples of observations with quantitative data.

Practice observing by examining at this photo of a log from a tree that grew in Central Pennsylvania, USA.

fluffy log

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 observations as you can.


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

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


When I touched the stuff, I observed it felt soft.

3. Form a question about what you have observed.


4. Prediction - Would you expect to see this again in another tree? Explain.


Extend your knowledge:

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 Activity

Observation Skills Builders | What is a hypothesis?


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

Fields, Meadows & Fencerows EcoStudy | Wetlands EcoStudy Unit | Water & Watershed Study Unit

Habitat Project Digital Science Journal | Energy & Alternative Energy Studies | Plants & People | Milkweed & Monarch Butterflies Mania

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

Environmental Inquiry | PA Standards Aligned Systems

Science Links and Resources | Science NetLinks | iTunes U - free resources | Chem4Kids | Exploring the Environment modules and activities

meter ruler

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Posted by Cynthia J. O'Hora 2/2009, 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.

tree icon Save a tree use a digital answer format - Highlight the text. Copy it. Paste it in a word processing document. Save the document in your folder. Answer on the wp document in an easily read, contrasting color or font. (Not yellow ) nor fancy fonts like: Symbols, Techno, blakmore fancy font fancy fonts). Save frequently as you work. I have never liked losing my work. You will not like it either. Be sure to enter your name & the date at the top of the document in a header. Submit via email attachment or an electronic class dropbox. Bad things happen: Save a copy of the response document for your records.

Proof your responses. It is funny how speling errors and typeos sneak in to the bets work. smiling icon Make your own printer paper answer sheet