magnifying glass Observation: The First Step in the Scientific Method

"People can often learn about things around them by just observing those things carefully, but sometimes they can learn more by doing something to the things and noting what happens. Describing things as accurately as possible is important in science because it enables people to compare their observations with those of others.

Tools such as thermometers, magnifiers, rulers, or balances often give more information about things than can be obtained by just observing things without their help."
Science NetLinks Benchmark 1
- Nature of science - How science works

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

- Qualitative data are properties that you observe and describe.

The tepid, murky water trickled from the old, rusty hand pump. A layer of ecru brown sediment quickly settled to the bottom of the glass. The water had an odd odor, too. - This observation is all qualitative data.

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

On 12/18/08 at 12:38 PM - the kitchen faucet water flow rate at the faucet was 1 gallon per minute. It was positive for fecal coliform bacteria. Nitrates - 13 milligrams per liter (mg/l). The pH was 4. Lead - 0.035 mg/L. Hardness - 9 gpg. - is quantitative data.

It is critical to be a skilled observer. The more details you notice, the more likely you will be to
arrive at the correct answer to the question.

Practice observing by looking at this photo.
The middle school hiking club is walking on a public trail. It was once an abandoned mine railway in Northumberland County, PA. The thirsty group comes across this stream.

ot=range stain raocks and water in stream

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

pencil right1. Document your observations. Imagine - If you were standing in the scene:

tablr Use a table to answer these questions

What useful data would you collect?

For each one - is it qualitative or quantitative?

What tools (instruments) would you use to measure the data?


2. Fire up your imagination or your curiosity.
Write a hypothesis
about what you have observed.
(What is a hypothesis?)


Scientists strive to answer questions.

4. Based on what you can observe, should the thirsty hikers drink this water?


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?


6. What could be done to remediate this watershed?


Journey further:

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

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

Observation Skills Builders Index | Careers in Geoscience

Watersheds Internet activity | Water on, in and above the Earth - USGS

Shamokin Creek Restoration Alliance | Watersheds.TV

Bucknell Professor Turns Acid Mine Drainage into Colorful Opportunity

Toxic Waters - New York Times Series

NYT water-pollution series faults feds as FRAC Act debate rages in GarCo

"All the water that will ever be is, right now." National Geographic, October 1993

Water & Watershed Activities Index | Water and Air - NASA | Bluebirds Project | Wetlands EcoStudy Unit

meter ruler

All trademarks, copyright and logos belong to their respective owners.

Internet Hunts / Nature / Computers / Famous Pennsylvanians / Civics & History / Puzzles & Projects / Site map / Home

Posted by Cynthia J. O'Hora 10/2008, released for noncommercial use by nonprofit organizations
Aligned with Pennsylvania Academic Standards Science & Technology, Reading & Writing, Career Education and Work

tree icon Save a tree use a Digital Answer Format - Highlight the text. Copy it. Paste it in a word processing document. Save the document in your folder. Answer on the wp document. Save frequently as you work. I have never liked losing my work. You will not like it either. Be sure to enter your name & the date at the top of the document, in a header. Submit the assignment via an email attachment or class dropbox. Bad things happen: Save a copy of the response document for your records.
Proof read your responses.
It is funny how speling errors and typeos sneek in to the betsworck.
smiling icon Make your own printer paper answer sheet

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.