magnifying glass Observation: The First Step in the Scientific Method

To observe means to examine something and to carefully note the details.
When scientists observe things
they ask questions. Scientists then seek to answer these 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: Jen told her grandmother the wind blew so hard it nearly pushed her off the peak
of lofty Mount Washington. She said it was so cold her breath froze as she walked across
the fresh, crunchy ice that coated the deck of the observatory.

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

At 1500 hours GMT observed: Location: Latitude: 36 degrees, 28 minutes north Longitude: 116 degrees, 52 minutes west., Elevation: 86 meters below sea level. Temperature: 52°C (126°F). Wind Speed 5 knots. Barometric Pressure: 30.09in. Hg. The alluvial fan is 1 kilometer wide.

Practice making observations:


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.


Imagine - If you were standing there, looking at the ground:

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

What tools (instruments) would you use to make measurements?


2. Fire up your imagination or curiosity. Write at least two hypothesis about what is shown in the photograph.



3. Based on your observations you can make some assumptions.

In general, what is the temperature?

What is the season?

What are the Classes of the organisms whose footprints are shown?

In this community, did the kids have school on this day?



About Units of Measurement - IB Biology | Steps of the Scientific Method - Science Buddies

Winter's Story | Learn about the Scientific Method Activity | The Scientific Process

Observation - Science Skills Builders index | Weather Internet Hunt


“Getting an inch of snow is like winning 10 cents in the lottery.” Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes)


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

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

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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.