Thinking Like a Scientist Activity 2
The world is full of magic things waiting patiently for our senses
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
For each pair:
- 2 hand lense
- Object to examine such as a plant, feather, soil, wool, insect, etc.
- Colored pencils (optional)
Before class, obtain several different objects for students to examine.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.)
- 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
- 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?
- What types of information can you get by looking at an object in different
ways? Why would this be important to scientists?
- Why is it important to record your observations?
- Why do questions change as additional information is gathered?
Activity 3: Order from Disorder