Focus on… Observation

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What is observation? (Photo credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2009)

What is Observation?

ob·serve :

  1.  to see, watch, perceive, or notice
  2. to regard with attention, especially so as to see or learn something
  3. to watch, view, or note for a scientific purpose
  4. to state, comment, or remark
  5. to note or inspect closely for a sign of future events.

 Adapted from, 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.

Providing interesting science tools, such as this High Sierra Eco Explorer/Magnifier, draws students to engage in observation in different ways (Outdoor Explorer Series, HearthSong, $19.98. Click image for ordering information).

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:

Nature study and notebooking, anyone?

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