I want my students to realize that observations are 1) done regularly, even subconsciously, in their every day lives and 2) the ability to collect clear observations leads to new discoveries, in life and in science. Therefore, I have the following question posted on that board to help unearth these critical ideas:
Think of a time in your life when you had to observe something and what important events occurred as a result of that observation?
As students ponder an example from their own lives, I circulate around the room assisting those who are struggling. I ask probing questions: "Have you ever crossed a street? What kinds of observations did you make to make that possible?" I want my kids to relate their lives to science. Throughout the course of the year in my class, they will develop observational skills that may one day lead to other discoveries in life and possibly science. Showing kids that they have been performing scientific tasks their entire lives will hopefully help build their confidence and help empower them to feel more confident in my class.
I give students up to 5 minutes to record their responses into their science notebooks and we then review as a class.
I've included a list of the materials needed for the activity.
I explain to students that they are going to be challenged to make observations today that enable other students in the room to correctly identify their apple. Each group will have an apple that they will observe and record their observations on a worksheet provided. As individuals, they will also record their observations in their science notebooks. Their goal is to record observations that enable the other groups to correctly identify their apple, based on the observations that are shared with them.
Note: It is important to emphasize to students that they may not mark, change or damage the apples at any time.
First, I inform groups that a bowl with apples will be passed around the room and each group should take one apple out of the bowl. That is the apple that they will be using for the activity. I tell students that they should not damage, mark or change their apple in any way. Prior to handing out the apples, I instruct students to record their observations in their science notebooks (Refer to my video on setting up and using a science notebook in class.)
I then give out the group observation worksheet, which is also available in Google Document worksheet. My reasoning for the group worksheet is mainly to assess each group's observations from the beginning of class to the end, especially after we have gone over how to make proper observations.
I use a Google Document so that I can quickly assess each group's growth and easily give feedback; grading 6 documents is faster and more effective than grading 30. The trick with the Google doc is that it must be shared with everyone in the class, so that they can comment in part b of the activity.
Alternatively, teachers can use the group worksheet in paper form, collect it at the end of class and add comments by hand. Since we do not have 1:1 integration of Chromebooks, I still have students complete the assignment in their science notebook, as well. They simply model their input after the structure of the worksheet, with the exception of leaving out parts 1b and 2b.
It is now time for students to complete the first phase of the observation activity. I begin by passing around a bowl filled with apples and groups are instructed to take one and pass it to the next group. Students then make as many observations as they can in 5 minutes, with the goal of being able to give their observation sheet to another group who then can use that information to correctly identify their apple.
Now that students have observed their own apples, it is time to put their observations to the test. After collecting the apples back into the bowl, I set the lemons on desks that are on the outside perimeter of the room. Students then exchange their observation sheets with another group and each group tries to find the correct apple. When students feel that they have found the correct apple, they must justify their decision with evidence (i.e. point out the specific places where these observed features exist).
Most likely, based on the lack of measurement, groups will struggle to identify the correct apple. I use this as a teachable moment and have a brief conversation about the importance of quantitative observations and the need to be accurate and objective. Using students' specific observations from the sheets, it's time to lead a discussion about how to be more accurate and exclude opinions.
The discussion about the previous activity begins by asking students to share the challenges that they faced when trying to identify the correct apple. Most students always agree that a way to measure the various aspects of the apple, such as weight, length, circumference, etc. would help them be more specific.
I then begin to discuss the difference between quantitative and qualitative observations with the group and have students record the definitions in their science notebooks. I define quantitative as any observation that includes quantities or numbers. I define qualitative as observations that include information gathered from using their senses and do not include measurements. To check for understanding, I ask students to make observations about non-living objects in the room and we try to guess if they are quantitative or qualitative. I allow students to estimate the size of objects to save time, but you can certainly have them measure objects. I also mention that it’s important for scientists to be accurate by measuring correctly, as well as making sure that they are only stating the facts (being objective)--not adding opinions--in their observations.
I then state to the class that they are going to get another opportunity to observe their apple, but this time they should strive to be accurate and objective. In addition, they should strive to add more accurate quantitative observations. We will then repeat the activity from before and give the same student our new observations on part 2 of the worksheet.
Watch this video to learn more about observations and inferences:
This picture of a student using a string to get the circumference of the apple, which will then be measured with a ruler. Students found that the addition of quantitative data made identifying other groups' apples easier.
This image shows a student's observations before and after learning about quantitative observations. Note: Students haven't learned about the metric system.
After students have observed the apple again and recorded their observations on part 2 of the worksheet, they bring their apple back to me and I place it on a desk around the perimeter of the room just as I did before.
Groups then exchange their observation sheets with the same group, as before, and the groups now use only the new observations recorded on part 2 of the worksheet to identify the apple.
Again, just as before, students will have to justify their apple selection by demonstrating the evidence used to make their final inference.
The video below demonstrates how students can efficiently exchange apples with other groups.
The main assessment for this lesson is a reflection question that should be started at the end of class.
Reflection question: After comparing and contrasting your observations from parts 1 and 2, discuss the characteristics of good science observations and explain why these types of observations are useful to scientists.
Note: Some students may need more that the allotted time in class. If that is the case, allow them to finish the assignment for HW and then collect at the beginning of their next class.