What is Observation?
- to see, watch, perceive, or notice
- to regard with attention, especially so as to see or learn something
- to watch, view, or note for a scientific purpose
- to state, comment, or remark
- to note or inspect closely for a sign of future events.
Adapted from Dictionary.com, 2012
Observing is one of the basic science process skills, as listed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, along with inferring, measuring, communicating, classifying and predicting. To these six basic skills are added six integrated process skills: controlling variables, defining operationally, formulating hypotheses, interpreting data, experimenting, and formulating models.
Why teach children science process skills?
Researchers studying 8th graders who were not specifically taught science process skills found that only 10% of the students could perform these skills. On the other hand, elementary students who had been taught science through National Science Foundation curricula, which included explicit material on these skills, could not only perform these skills, but transferred them to other situations immediately. So, it appears that 1) science process skills should be taught, just like reading and other skills, and 2) learning them helps students way beyond their science classes. [See “The Science Process Skills,” by Michael J. Padilla, Professor of Science Education, University of Georgia, for more information]
How do you teach children to observe?
In the studies above, researchers examined the practices of teachers who successfully taught students how to observe. They found that the most effective teaching strategies included these practices:
- Providing specific clues and cues to aid observations (see “Simple Science Strategies: Using a Bubble Map”);
- Using activities to elicit observations (see “The Nature Corner”);
- Incorporating drawing and writing (journaling, notebooking, etc.) in observations (see “Sketching for Understanding: The Sketch Journal“;
- Adult explanation and “think-aloud” during observation;
- Discussion about and sharing of observations (see “Comparing Nests: The ‘Same and Different’ Center“);
- Teacher feedback on student observations;
- And practice, practice, practice in observing, all day, every day (see “Writing in Science: Observation and Elaboration“!
Nature study and notebooking, anyone?
More Articles on Observation:
- “Gardening Projects for Kids — Growing Your Own Little Gardener,” Handbook of Nature Study
- “Colors and Surprises in the Late July Garden,” Handbook of Nature Study
- “OHC More Nature Study Book #4 — Monarch Butterflies,” Handbook of Nature Stu