magnifying glass Observation: The First Step in the Scientific Method

"Scientists concentrate on getting accurate data. Such evidence is obtained by observations and measurements taken in situations that range from natural settings…to completely contrived ones (such as in the laboratory). To make their observations, scientists use their own senses, instruments…that enhance those senses, and instruments that tap characteristics quite different from what humans can sense (such as magnetic fields). Scientists observe passively (earthquakes, bird migrations), make collections (rocks, shells), and actively probe the world (as by boring into the earth's crust or administering experimental medicines)." 1

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

- Qualitative data are descriptions that do not have numbers.

Example: The enormous grizzly bear is consuming the wild blueberries.

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

The bear weighed 700 kilograms and was 140 cm. tall at the shoulder. It consumed blueberrie from 0900 until 1422 on July 22, 1998. This is an example of quantitative data.

Practice making observations:

On a recent visit to Yellowstone National Park, Pops took this photo. He also noticed there was a funny odor in the air.

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.


Consider - If you were standing there, looking at the phenomena:

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 this phenomena.
(What is a hypothesis?)


3. TAI (Think About It) Which fields of science would be interested in studying this natural phenomena?



Journey further:

Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is America's first national park. Old Faithful webcam

Measuring temperature Absolute Zero @ PBS | High Temperature records by State

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

Steps of the Scientific Method - Science Buddies | Observation Skills Builders - index

Common Measuring Water - USGS | Learn about the Scientific Method Activity


1. American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1989). Science for all Americans: A Project 2061 report on literacy goals in science, mathematics, and technology. Washington, DC: Author. [Available online at:

"There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness,
that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm." Theodore Roosevelt

Water & Watesheds Study Unit | Bluebirds Project | Milkweed and Monarch Butterfly Mania

meter ruler

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Aligned with Pennsylvania Academic Standards Science & Technology, Reading Writing, Careers | Rubric Templates at Bernie Dodge site

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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.