magnifying glass Observation: The First Step in the Scientific Method

To observe means to look at something and to notice the details. When scientists observe things they ask questions.
Scientists then seek to answer their questions. These observations are the initial step in the scientific method.

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

- Qualitative data are descriptions that do not have numbers.

Example: The food service director insisted the hamburgers were well done because they were no longer pink inside. The potato salad was kept icy cold in a bed of shaved ice.

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

The chef monitored that the hamburgers were cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F for 1 minute and that the potato salad was kept at 38 degrees Fahrenheit is quantitative data.

Practice making observations:

I was going to make a delicious spinach, egg, mushroom and bacon salad.
I took the bacon from the refrigerator and opened the package. I saw this.

green spot on bacon

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

1. Write your observations.



2. Fire up your imagination or curiosity.
Write at least two hypothesis
about this stuff.
(What is a hypothesis?)


3. TAI (Think About It) What advice would you give to me regarding using this bacon?

Explain your advice.



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star gold "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known." -- Carl Sagan


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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.