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 are descriptions that do not have numbers.

"It is so humid that I am profusely perspiring!" is an example of qualitative data.

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

Example: At 1500 GMT 6/7/09 the Relative Humidity is 83% is quantitative data.

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

Practice observing by looking at this photo. How many details can you identify?


If you click here, a closer view will appear. 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) would assist you in being a better observer?

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


3. Write at least two questions that might be asked about what you have observed.


4. Identify 5 or more fields of science that would be interested in this phenomena.


Extend your knowledge:

Explore the website Absolute Zero @ PBS. | Winter's Story | Winter Facts Internet Hunt | Frost facts

Temperature facts and figures - IB Biology | About Units of Measurement - IB Biology

Observing Biology how to's | Observation - Science Skills Builders | What is a hypothesis?

Learn about the Scientific Method Activity

"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in." Greek Proverb

"I never before knew the full value of trees. My house is entirely embossomed in high plane-trees, with good grass below;
and under them I breakfast, dine, write, read, and receive my company. What would I not give that the trees planted
nearest round the house at Monticello were full grown. -- Thomas Jefferson to Martha Randolph (from Philadelphia), 1793


Winter Internet Hunt | Winter Song Digital Project | Winter Writing | Stranger in the Woods lit activity | Winter Scene Writing

Water Study Unit | Bluebirds Project | Wetland EcoStudy Unit | Fields, Meadows and Fencerows Ecostudy Unit

Learn about the Scientific Method

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FAQ Posted 2/2009 by Cynthia J. O'Hora Aligned with Pennsylvania Academic Standards

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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.