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Thinking Like a Scientist Activity 2

The world is full of magic things waiting patiently for our senses to sharpen.

--John Keats

Under Observation


Students will investigate the importance of observation in science.

About the Activity

One of the most valuable skills for a scientist is the ability to observe--to really see what others might miss. In many cases, observation is not just a matter of seeing an object or phenomenon, but experiencing it using as many of the senses as possible--hearing, touching, smelling, even tasting. Instruments, such as microscopes or magnetic imaging, allow scientists to increase both the accuracy and depth of their perceptions. Once a situation, object, or behavior is observed, it is important to record that observation, either in writing or in pictures or both.

In this activity, students will examine part of a living object, both with the unaided eye and through hand lenses, to gain an understanding of how changing the tools humans use for observation can change our perceptions of an object. Students will also practice recording their observations by drawing sketches.


For each pair:

  • 2 hand lense

  • Object to examine such as a plant, feather, soil, wool, insect, etc.

  • Paper

  • Pencil

  • Ruler

  • Colored pencils (optional)


Before class, obtain several different objects for students to examine.



  1. Divide the class into pairs and pass out the materials. Ask each group to draw three 4" x 4" boxes, each on a separate sheet of paper. Explain that they will be recording their observations of their object within these boxes, and that the boxes represent the students' field of vision.
  2. Ask the groups to carefully examine their object. Have them look closely at the shape, color, and texture of the object. Then ask the students to draw what they see in one of the boxes. Have them note any special details in their drawings, and write a brief description of what they see below the box.
    observation art
  3. Next, have students view the object using a single hand lens. Have them draw what they see in the box on the second sheet of paper. Have students write a brief description of what they see below the box. Ask them to indicate the lens magnification in the description. Then, ask them to compare what they see through the hand lens to what they saw without the help of the lens.
    observation art
  4. Now have students place two hand lenses together, to increase the magnification. Have them view the object through the combined lenses. Ask students to draw what they see within the box on the third sheet of paper, and have them write a description of what they see below the box. Be sure to remind them to include the total magnification in the description. (The total magnification equals the magnification of lens 1 multiplied by the magnification of lens 2. For example, 5x times 3x = 15x total magnification.)
    observation art
  5. Ask students to write three (or more) questions about the object they are observing that might be answered if they observed the object with a more powerful microscope.

Sample drawings for the Under Observation exercise
feather illustration

Discussion Questions

  1. How does the appearance of your object differ when viewed by the naked eye, under a single lens, and under two lenses? How would you describe what you saw at each level?
  2. What types of information can you get by looking at an object in different ways? Why would this be important to scientists?
  3. Why is it important to record your observations?
  4. Why do questions change as additional information is gathered?

Activity 3: Order from Disorder

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