Summer Research Program for Science Teachers

More Than Meets The Eye:  The Importance of Making Observations

By: Lesia Kaszczak

Yonkers High School

Introduction: One of the goals of every science teacher is to have his/her students learn deductive as well as inductive reasoning.  Scientists are always making observations and must make inferences and conclusions based on their observations.  Unlike the lab experiments we conduct with our students, in a real lab there are no answer keys to check results.  Our students are used to having results at the end of a 42-minute period.  If the lab “did not work” we explain what they “should have observed” or show them data they “should have obtained”.

The lesson I am submitting is twofold.  Part 1 teaches the students the skill of visual observation.  Part 2 also focuses on observation skills, although not visual.  Part 2 is interesting because students are asked to make a conclusion that is never proved or disproved by the teacher.  In this case, there is no answer key.

Objectives:

Students will:

• Make direct and indirect observations
• Develop an understanding about scientific inquiry (9-12 content standard A)
• Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and models (9-12 content standard A)
• Communicate and defend a scientific argument 9-12 (content standard A)

Teacher will:

• Orchestrate discourse among students about scientific ideas (teaching standard B)
• Recognize and respond to student diversity and encourage all students to participate fully in science learning (teaching standard B)
• Structure the time available so that students are able to engage in extended investigations (teaching standard D)

## Activity #1 the observation Box

Time Allotment 1-2 periods or 1 double period

1. In this activity, the teacher prepares an “observation box” which is a box with about 10-15 different objects.  (A shoebox works well).  You can put any objects in the box as long as there is a variety.  I like to put many unrelated objects.  Examples of objects I have used are: nail polish, penny, magic marker, matchbook, hairclip, rubber band, hairbrush, etc.
2. Allow students to visually “ observe” the box for 1 minute.  They are allowed to look, but not touch the contents.  In a class of 30, I allow the students to come up to my desk with their entire row.
3. After they have observed the contents, they are to return to their seats and record all of their observations.  They are not allowed to share their notes with anyone else.
4. Instead of asking them to state the observations they made, make up a question sheet (10-20 questions) based on the objects in the box.  The students may use their notes to answer the questions.  Examples of questions are:
• What color was the nail polish?
• What restaurant name was written on the matchbook
• What was the date on the penny?
• What was leaning on the magic marker?

1. After students are done answering the questions, (about 15 minutes) you may go over the answers and perhaps award a prize to the person having the most correct answers.

Notes:  Watch the students’ faces when they receive the question sheet.  Many of them just recorded the contents of the box rather than specific details. This can lead into a discussion about “good observation skills”.  It is also interesting to note how many girls, as opposed to boys, knew the color of the nail polish.  Is subjectivity involved in making scientific observations?

# Activity # 2 Thinking Inside the Box

Time allotment: 2-3 periods or 1 double period

This case study activity can be found on the marcopolo Website http://marcopolo-education.org/index.aspx  (see direct links below)

This activity expands the observation skill to include making indirect observations, i.e. observations without using our sense of sight.  Students are again given a box, but this time the box is sealed with various objects inside.  Students, working in groups of 3 or 4, collect raw data by observing the mass of the box, the movement, or lack thereof, of the contents, the number of objects in the box, etc…

After the data has been collected, students must report their findings to the class.  They must make a conclusion based on their observations.

When the activity is completed, the students will want to know the contents of the box.  (Answer key syndrome).  The Website encourages the teacher not to disclose the contents.  This reinforces the notion that scientific discoveries or theories are often based on indirect observations and often we cannot “see” an object, such as an atom, but rather we study the behavior of the substance as we did with the box.

The following 2 links bring you right to the case study