magnifying glass Observation: The First Step in the Scientific Method

To observe means to look at something. Good observers carefully note 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 temperature in server room was so high that the technician broke out in a sweat while she was working on rebooting the primary server. No air was blowing coming from the air conditioner.

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

At 13:30 GMT on April 20, 2009 observed: the air temperature in the computer server room
was 39° (degrees) Celsius.
The switch on the air conditioner was in the off position.

Practice making observations:

On April 30, at 08:00 GMT, I saw this in a bush. As I watched, small dark creatures crawled all over it.

web in bush

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 bush:

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


How might you document/record this phenomena?


2. Fire up your imagination or curiosity. What is shown in the photograph?


3. What actions would an Integrated Pest Management professional suggest regarding this situation?


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



About Units of Measurement - IB Biology | Observing Biology how to's

Observation Skills Builders | What is a hypothesis?

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

Emergence - How does the "intelligence" of an ant colony or the stock market arise out of the simple actions of its members?

"Some primal termite knocked on wood;
and tasted it, and found it good.
That is why your Cousin May
fell through the parlor floor today." - Ogden Nash

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

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 | Rubric Templates at Bernie Dodge site

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Proof read your responses.
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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.