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Akron Global Polymer Academy Professional Development Modules

Observe This!

Grades: 5-8
Author: Tess Ewart


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.



Computer with internet access

Computer projector or the ability to show the computer image on a large monitor - National Institutes of Health

Observation Data Sheet

Lesson Plan Template




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:"

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


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 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.


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

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.

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


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

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

Classroom Implementation


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: 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

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

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

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:

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:

Best Teaching Practices

Time Frame

1-2 hours


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.


None available for this module.


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.




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


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.


None available for this module.


National Institutes of Health

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

David Smith, Faculty Geology, Environmental Science:

Kathleen Carroll, Observation and Inference Rap:

Tess Ewart