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Observe This!

Grades: 5-8
Author: Tess Ewart


Abstract

Module Description

As a result of the presenter-conducted module, participants will distinguish between observations and inferences through questioning, short video clips of mouse activity and participant created scenarios. Participants will design a lesson that will use a simulation in their classroom.


Objectives

  • Participants will distinguish between observations and inferences.
  • Participants will create a scenario that incorporates observations from which they will make inferences.
  • Participants will design and implement in their classrooms a lesson focused on helping students distinguish observation from inference.

Materials

Computer with internet access

Computer projector or the ability to show the computer image on a large monitor

http://science.education.nih.gov/supplements/alcohol/student - National Institutes of Health

Observation Data Sheet

Lesson Plan Template


Procedures

Engagement

From http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/oct98/909513628.Es.r.html

To get the participants thinking about observations and inferences, pose the question: "How do we know what the inside of Earth is like? As you know, we cannot look at it directly. We must rely on indirect information and on reasoning about that information. There are several general types of information that are helpful:"

  • One important source of data is the waves that travel through Earth from earthquakes.
  • Another important source of information comes from pieces of the interior of Earth that are transported to the surface in volcanic eruptions.
  • Also, we can draw inferences based on what we can see and what we think about the origin of Earth. We believe Earth formed from a cloud of debris, the remains of which can still be seen in meteorites and asteroids. After collecting many samples of meteorites that have fallen to Earth, we can get a good idea of what the average chemical composition of Earth must have been at its beginning.
  • We can test these ideas by taking material that has the same average chemical composition into the lab, placing it under high pressure and temperature and comparing the physical properties of this average chemical composition material to the physical properties of Earth we can measure with seismic data. If the properties match, that says the inferred composition is possible and strengthens confidence in our knowledge of the rest of Earth as well.
  • Finally, it is very important that you do not get the idea that we "know" exactly what the inside of Earth is made of. We have explanations that fit all of the data outlined above, but major new advances in our understanding of the core have been made within the past two years, and a new idea is now emerging and being tested that suggests that the core of Earth may actually contain substantial amounts of hydrogen.

Assessment: Participants' ideas of observations/information needed to conclude what the interior of Earth is like.

Exploration

To see what the participants know about observations and inferences, ask the participants to write their definitions of observations and inferences on the Observation Data Sheet (see Materials). You will come back to this later.

(accept all answers)

Log onto the National Institutes of Health Web site http://science.education.nih.gov/supplements/alcohol/student and click on "Lesson 1 - Alcohol: Separating Fact from Fiction."

Explain to the participants that they will view two short video clips of mice to practice their observation skills. Ask the participants to observe the behavior of each mouse and record their observations on the Observation Data Sheet (see Materials). Do not specify a number of observations to make. If some participants are aware that the lesson is about alcohol, do not reveal which video clip shows the mouse that has been given alcohol.

Click on "mouse 1" to play the first video clip. Ask the participants to observe carefully and record the behavior of the mouse on the Observation Data Sheet (see Materials).

(Do not mention anything about the mouse or why you are asking them to observe it. This first clip shows the mouse that has not been given alcohol being placed on the center of a table. The mouse is nervous and tentatively explores its environment. It cautiously moves short distances in a circular pattern around the spot upon which it was placed. It occasionally rears up and sniffs the air. Replay the video if necessary.)

Click on "mouse 2" to play the second video clip. Again, ask the participants to observe carefully and record the behavior of the mouse on the Observation Data Sheet (see Materials). As before, do not mention anything about the mouse.

(This second clip features the mouse that is intoxicated with alcohol. It has lost its sense of inhibition and immediately runs off the edge of the table. Each time the mouse is repositioned and released, it again recklessly runs off the table's edge. Replay the video if necessary.)

Ask the participants to now make inferences for the observations they listed.

(accept all answers)

Assessment: Participants' lists of observations and inferences.

Explanation

To get a formal definition of observation and inference, have the participants discuss the difference between an observation and an inference. Ask participants:

  • What is an observation? - (Answers may vary. An observation is information that can be described using the senses. It involves the noting and recording of phenomena.)
  • What is an inference? - (An inference is a conclusion that follows logically from available evidence but is not a direct result of that evidence. This means that people may make different inferences from the same evidence.)
  • If I say that the mouse is white, is that an observation or an inference? - (This statement is an observation because you can see that the mouse is white.)
  • If I say that the mouse is happy, is that an observation or an inference? - (This statement is an inference because the mouse cannot tell you that it is happy, and it cannot display a behavior that indicates only happiness.)
  • If I say that the mouse is drinking water, is that an observation or an inference? - (If you see a mouse drinking water, then the statement is an observation. You can infer that, because the mouse is drinking water, it is thirsty.)
  • Have participants share their observations and inferences about the behavior of Mouse #1. Ask the other participants if they agree or disagree with the statements, the classification of the statements and state the reasons to support their position. - (Participants report various observations and inferences of the mouse's behavior.)
  • Have participants share their observations and inferences about the behavior of Mouse #2. Ask the other participants if they agree or disagree with the statements, the classification of the statements and state the reasons to support their position. - (Once again, participant observations and inferences of the mouse's behavior will vary.)
  • Point out that the behavior of the second mouse was clearly different from the first mouse. Ask participants to suggest reasons (inferences) that could account for the differences in behavior. - (Their answers will vary but may include sickness (either hereditary or infectious); exposure to drugs, alcohol, or chemicals; and age. Accept all responses that could reasonably account for the differences in behavior. List the responses on the board.)
  • Ask the participants which reason for the differences in mice behavior they generated would be the most likely explanation. Participants must give their reasons for their choice. - (After the participants' discussion, explain that, in fact, the second mouse was given a dose of alcohol sufficient to render it intoxicated, while the first mouse has not been given alcohol.)

NOTE: The focus of this lesson is distinguishing between observation and inference - not on the use of alcohol. However, the following extension question could be used at this time, at the discretion of the presenter.

  • Ask the participants how the behavior of the intoxicated mouse is similar to that of intoxicated humans. - (Answers will vary. Make sure that participants appreciate that alcohol causes the mouse to lose its normal cautious nature in a manner similar to that in which humans lose their inhibitions after drinking alcoholic beverages.)

Assessment: Participants' explanations of observations vs. inferences of the mice behavior.

Elaboration

To further practice their observation and inference skills, have the participants do the following:

  • Why is it important for scientists to distinguish between observations and inferences? (Observations provide the facts that all scientists can agree on, while inferences are subject to individual interpretation.)
  • Share with the participants the Observation and Inference Rap from the Songs for Teaching Website.
  • Have the participants create a scenario that includes 5 - 10 observations that uses at least 3 senses, which can be used to make inferences on what is occurring in the scenario. When the participants are done with their scenarios, they should exchange the scenarios with another participant. That participant should identify the observations in the scenario and make inferences based on the observations.
  • Share scenarios as a group identifying the observations. Have participants share the inferences they made from the observations in each scenario. Ask participants if they agree or disagree with the observations and inferences and state the reasons to support their position.

Assessment: Participants' explanations of observations vs. inferences in the participant created scenarios.

Classroom Implementation

  • Have participants discuss ways that they could use observations and inferences in their classroom settings.
  • Participants should complete a lesson plan template for an observation and inference lesson that addresses grade level content indicators for use in their classroom. See Lesson Plan Template handout.
  • Further and on-going collaboration among participants should be encouraged.

Rationale

Adapted from:

It is important for students to understand the difference between observation and inference. However, this knowledge in itself is not enough. Students should also learn to make good observations and inferences, and understand the role that observations and inferences play in the development of scientific knowledge.

A good scientist is observant and notices things in the world around him/herself. Curious observation is the start of the inductive process. Discovery of new problems, ideas, theories, decisions needed, and problem prevention usually begins with curious observation using the five senses: smelling, tasting, hearing, feeling, seeing. Instruments and tools can be used to help extend these senses. Observations are direct enough that most would make the same observation in the same situation. When we interpret observations according to knowledge from past experience, it is an inference. Inferences are important in science in making explanations, but one must be careful not to confuse observations with inferences when conducting a study. For example, a student might explain what he thought was making a sound (inference) instead of reporting the type of sound he actually heard (observation). It is also important to note that many think of observing as only using the sense of sight, forgetting that all the senses are used when making observations.

Curious observation can and does include reading and studying what others have done in the past because scientific knowledge is cumulative. In physics, when Newton came up with his Theory of Motion, he based his hypothesis on the work of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo as well as his own, newer observations. Darwin not only observed and took notes during his voyage, but he also studied the practice of artificial selection and read the works of other naturalists to form his Theory of Evolution.

More detailed information on science inquiry can be found at: http://uakron.edu/cpspe/agpa-k12outreach/best-teaching-practices/


Science Standards

Content, Technology, and Professional Development:

NSES Standard A: Science as Inquiry: As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

  • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence.
  • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.
  • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions.
  • Communicate scientific procedures and explanations.

NSES Standard C: Life Science: As a result of their activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of regulation and behavior

  • Behavior is one kind of response an organism can make to an internal or environmental stimulus.

NSES Standard G: History and Nature of Science: As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of Science as a human endeavor

  • Science requires different abilities, depending on such factors as the field of study and type of inquiry. Science is very much a human endeavor, and the work of science relies on basic human qualities, such as reasoning, insight, energy, skills, and creativity, as well as on scientific habits of minds, such as intellectual honesty, tolerance of ambiguity, skepticism, and openness to new ideas.

NSES PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT STANDARD A: Professional development for teachers of science requires learning essential science content through the perspectives and methods of inquiry. Science learning experiences for teachers must:

  • Involve teachers in actively investigating phenomena that can be studied scientifically, interpreting results, and making sense of findings consistent with currently accepted scientific understanding.
  • Address issues, events, problems, or topics significant in science and of interest to participants.
  • Introduce teachers to scientific literature, media, and technological resources that expand their science knowledge and their ability to access further knowledge.
  • Build on the teacher's current science understanding, ability, and attitudes.
  • Incorporate ongoing reflection on the process and outcomes of understanding science through inquiry.
  • Encourage and support teachers in efforts to collaborate.

NSES PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT STANDARD B: Professional development for teachers of science requires integrating knowledge of science, learning, pedagogy, and students; it also requires applying that knowledge to science teaching. Learning experiences for teachers of science must:

  • Connect and integrate all pertinent aspects of science and science education.

Best Teaching Practices

  • Inquiry
  • Science Process Skills

Time Frame

1-2 hours


Preparation

Notify the participants in advance to bring their curriculum guide/map or textbook to facilitate their development of an implementation plan.

Preview all video clips and review all websites to be sure delivery is well-informed and runs smoothly.


Safety

None available for this module.


Assessment

Assessments can be found at the end of each learning cycle stage. For an overall assessment, have the students make observations and inferences while looking at a crime scene photo such as one that can be found at:


Explanation of Science

An observation is information that can be described using the senses. It involves the noting and recording of phenomena.

An inference is a conclusion that follows logically from available evidence but is not a direct result of that evidence. This means that people may make different inferences from the same evidence.


Handouts

N/A


Extensions

Use a scenario that focuses on forensic science, experimentation, or diagnostic testing for participants to make observations and inferences.


Lesson Implementation Template

Download Lesson Implementation Template: Word Document or PDF File


Equity

Issues to consider are the following: seating so everyone can see the display, make sure every person participates in discussions, and grouping with diversity in mind.


Resources

None available for this module.


References

National Institutes of Health

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

David Smith, Faculty Geology, Environmental Science: http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/oct98/909513628.Es.r.html

Kathleen Carroll, Observation and Inference Rap: http://www.songsforteaching.homestead.com/ObservationInferenceRap.html

Tess Ewart