magnifying glass Observation: The First Step in the Scientific Method

When you examine something carefully you are making observations. Good observers pay careful attention to details. When people observe things they often wonder why. Why is it like this? Why does it change? Scientists work to answer many 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 classroom's windows faced the setting sun. The classroom was so dark that the lights were left on all the time. - is qualitative data.

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

Daylighting provided 50 foot-candles of light in each classroom during the day. 100 days during the school year it was not necessary to turn on the electric lights at all. Daylighting in lieu of using electric lights saved the district $75,000 in the first year. is quantitative data.

It is fun to be a science observer. This is especially true when you come across an unexpected find.

Practice observing by looking at this photo.
Jay and Jen walked along the forest trail talking about events at school. They barely noted the trees, wildflowers or birds they passed. When they came across this formation, their attention was captured.

path through rocks

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

pencil right1. Write your observations. Note beside each one whether it is quantitative or qualitative.



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

What instruments should you use to measure and document 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 could change what you see?


Journey further:

About Units of Measurement - IB Biology | Geology by Frank H. T. Rhodes, Raymond Perlman

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

Geology - Windows to the Universe | Careers in Geoscience

Ricketts Glen State Park Glens Natural Area | Rock Classification

Earth Layers Internet activity | The Old Man in the Mountain

Rock and Mineral Internet Hunt | Observation Skills Builders

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


“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought,
but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." Albert Einstein

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 5/2009, 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.