It's All in the Details!

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SWBAT use their senses to make detailed observations that will help guide their scientific inquiry.

Big Idea

How do scientists make observations? Let's explore this idea and find out all of the different ways to observe.

Teacher Notes

Activity Description

The child in the classroom will use his/her senses to explore everyday objects which are in mystery bags while blindfolded as a demonstration to the class.  Then a discussion takes place about what qualitative and quantitative data is.  Then the children get to be junior scientist themselves!  They view an interactive presentation in which they get to observe animals and discuss how they are alike and different as they pretend to be a scientist collecting data.


Connections to NGSS and Common Core

 Observe means to see, watch or notice in order to gain information. The important words in that definition, in my opinion, are “in order to gain information.”  The NGSS requires that students learn how to not to just observe, but to observe with the purpose of gaining information.  This is an important skill necessary to becoming individual inquirers of the natural world.  They will also be working on engineering design goals.  The students will be not only observing, but asking questions to gather information, which is a stepping stone for finding solutions to problems.  They will also be making a simple sketch of an object.  In addition, the children will be working on the math standard of selecting appropriate tools for measurement.


  • items to observe such as a banana, a quarter, a leaf, a potato, a book (any items will do)
  • a brown paper bag to put all of the objects in so they are hidden 
  • blindfold (bandana will work fine)
  • My Clock Buddies sheet (Each child only needs one of these for the entire year) To see Clock Buddies in action, click here.
  • My Science Observation Notebook--1 per child; 
    • (NOTE:  This notebook is 5 pages long.  Be sure to click the arrows so you can see all 5 pages)




5 minutes

I call the children back to our reading corner.

 What does it mean to observe something?

The children almost answer in unison," To look at something with your eyes."

Do you think you can observe something WITHOUT using your eyes?  Let's see if we can do it!

 The children look a bit puzzled but intrigued. This idea of observing without the use of sight piques their curiosity since most children think that sight is the only way to observe something. Since observing is a big part of the NGSS for second grade, looking at things from a different perspective helps build their skills.

I tell the children I have a big bag of mystery items that we are going to explore by observing.  I remind them that we are going to try to do this without the sense of sight.



15 minutes

I have the children sit in a circle on the floor.  I have a basket where I have the names of each of the students written on a frog shaped paper that has been laminated.  I pick out one of the frogs and announce the name on the frog, which is a boy.  I put a handkerchief over his eyes and ask if he can see anything.  

Then I pick out one of the items from the bag.  First I chose a banana for him to make observations about.  I want to guide him in his observations so he only uses one sense at a time, so others can clearly delineate which sense is being utilized. At this point I want the children to make some discoveries about the senses for themselves, so I try not to give them too much information about the senses. Without letting him touch it, I carefully hold the banana close to his face and tell him to smell it.  

He tells the class, "It doesn't smell much, maybe a little sweet."   I answer," Good observation."

 Then I hold each end of the banana so he can feel it, but not feel the shape of it.  I ask him to feel the object.  He tells the class it feels smooth.  Then I hand the banana to him and let him feel the entire shape.  The rest of the class is watching intently.  

He almost instantly shouts out,"It's a banana!"  

Some of the children clap in delight.

 I then take the blindfold off and I ask the boy, "What were some of the clues that helped you figure out that it was a banana?"  He says," Mostly the shape and how it felt." I question him about the shape since I want to model deeper thinking,"What was it about the shape and touch that made it clear it was a banana?"  He replies,  "It was long and skinny with a long handle at one end and it was hard at the other." I comment, "Your brain must have used all of those clues and figured out it was a banana since you have seen and felt one before. Great job!"

Again, I wanted to make sure that the children are exposed to the idea of using the senses and making some inferences.

Then I pull another frog from the "pond." This time it is a girl.  I repeat the same process of blindfolding her.  This time I pull out a crunchy leaf from the mystery bag.  I repeat the same process as with the banana, I have her smell it, feel just a section of it and then feel the whole thing. This time, since it was relative, I encourage her to crunch the object a bit and listen to it.  After listening to it crunch, she was able to identify it was a leaf.  

I ask the rest of the class, "What senses did she use to figure out what the object was without using her eyes?"  

I repeat the same process with the other items in the mystery bag (see photo).  Even though it would be nice to have everyone take a turn, it would be too time consuming and everyone will get a turn to make observations in a few minutes in the next activity.  The intent of this activity is to get the children thinking about observation and breaking the walls that things can only be observed through seeing.  They are exposed to the idea that you can use all of your sense to observe things.  This makes for better observations, which is an NGSS expectation.





10 minutes

I tell the children, "To observe, you have to pay close attention to something.  The best way to do this is to use your 5 senses--touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing. However, you should not touch or taste unless an adult tells you it is safe to do so.  When people observe things they often wonder why it is that way.  They ask questions, which helps lead their investigations."

Scientists work to answer that question. Observations are also called data. There are two kinds of data:

* Qualitative data are descriptions that do not have numbers.  Scientists use magnifying glasses, binoculars and microscopes to help them find this type of data. 

Quantitative data are obtained by measuring. Scientists use tools such as thermometers, rulers and measuring devices, weights and scales to obtain numbers based data. QuaNtitative data has an "N" in the middle.  I use that "N" to help me remember that it is data with NUMBERS since numbers starts with an "N."  

"Think about the activity that we just did.  What type of data did we get? Was it qualitative or quantitative?  Did it have any numbers in it?  If so, it is quantitative."  A child answers, I don't remember anyone saying numbers, so we used qualitative data." I reply, "Great job! We didn't use any numbers, so we only found qualitative data.  If our volunteers weren't blindfolded, what could we have done to find quantitative data?"  A boy answers, "We could have used a ruler to see how long the banana was."  "You are a super scientist!" I brag.  Then I ask the class, "What else could we have done?"  Another boy comments, "We could have weighed the objects with a scale."  

The class is really putting some thought into their answers. The goal of the standard is to try to get them thinking about their observations, not just looking at something.  They are also working on the standard of choosing an appropriate measuring tool.

I continue, "When scientists observe something they look at the object for over long periods of time, from different angles, and at different places. The longer time they have to observe something, the more accurate their observations will be. They must chose the right observation tool according to what they are observing.  They also record their observations by using words, numbers, drawings, photos, and videos."  

Again this gets them to the standard of choosing the right tool.  Also they are learning about using drawings, and other depictions as one of the first steps of engineering design.



20 minutes

"You are so lucky!  Today we are going to be super scientists!  We are going to observe and take notes just like a scientist would right here in this special notebook."  

I hand them each the booklet called My Science Observation Notebook.  I have them put write their names on the cover on the line.  I remind them to write their first and last name.

I tell the children, "In this presentation you are going to be asked to discuss your findings with a  partner.  So you will need to get out your My Clock Buddies sheet.  I would like you to move next to your 10:00 partner."

The children quickly take out their Clock Buddies sheet and see who their partner is.  Between the two of them, they need to decide where they are going to sit and then move there.

We then continue with the Google Slide presentation titled  Using Our Skills of Observation.  If you prefer to view the presentation in a PDF format, click here.  

This is a short interactive presentation.  In the presentation, the children will be asked to take notes and write about their observations in their notebook.  They will be given instructions on other tasks they need to complete, such as sharing with a partner.  This is a stepping stone that helps get them to the standard of analyzing and interpreting data.   Click to see more information about using observational skills.

We discuss and take notes as instructed in the presentation (see Student Sample- My Science Observation Notebook).  Not only do the children get the chance to observe like scientists, they also get to take notes.  Both of these activities help get them to think and act like scientists.





Evaluation/ Wrap Up

5 minutes

We wrap up the lesson by reviewing the concepts learned.  At this point, there is not a formal evaluation, just a check to see if they understand the standard taught, observing with a purpose.

"What are some ways we can observe an object? A girl answers, "We can use our senses!"  I dive in further, "What are the senses and how can they help with observation?  Another child answers,"We can see something with our eyes, hear with our ears, smell with our noses, touch with our hands and taste things with our mouth." I reply, "WOW! You are a super scientist! What kind of things can we be looking for when we observe?"  A hear a child say, "Color and patterns."  "Great, what else? I request.  "Designs like circles and swirls and stuff," a boy adds.  "Even though sight is very important to scientists, what other things we can observe with our other senses?"  A child answers, "We can see how it feels.  It might be rough or smooth." "Super, who can add to this?" A girl says, "We can listen to the sounds it makes." I reply, "Great, let's see if we can keep this going."  Another girl says, "We can see if it has a smell or not." Another child comments, "We can taste it if we have permission."  I reply, "I am so glad you remembered that detail.  Good job!  What do we call this type of observation, qualitative or quantitative?" I make sure I stress the N in quantitative.  A boy softly says, "I think it is qualitative.  We didn't use any numbers."  "Super job everyone," I reply.

"What if we wanted to some quantitative data?  What could we do?"  Let's make a list on the board."

The children come up with these answers:

* measure with a ruler to see how long it is

* use a scale to see how much it weighs

* count how many there are

* see how many degrees it is


 By their answers, I can see we have mastered these concepts and are ready to move on to the next lesson on observation.  

I shout, "You are all super scientists!  I can't believe how much you have learned about observation!"