23 Replies Latest reply on Nov 1, 2010 6:31 PM by glen_w

    Science Processes and Skills #1 Observations and Inferences

    glen_w

      I recently read the Proposed National Science Education Standards Framework. This document indicates students should be actively doing science. Processes and Skills are an important component of science education. I feel a need to focus on Science Processes and Skills this year.  I hope to share these reflections with my Engage Community peers. My goal is to share one Science Process or Skill each month during the coming year.

       

      My science core requires students recognize the difference between observations and inferences. Children are naturally curious and observe the world around them. Many of us jump to a conclusion or inference based on our observations. I do this when I come home and smell fresh cookies. I infer my wife spoiled me, by making and baking cookies. (Sometimes, she baked a batch of purchased cookie dough and my inference is wrong.) My students claim they can identify McDonalds or Taco Bell by smell.

       

      I want to help my students grasp that making observations is natural and expected. They should recognize inferences they make, and how these differ from observations. Previously, I had students make classroom observations. When observations were shared some inferences are also stated. I pointed out student inferences as if each was something beyond our planned lesson. This activity led to a comparison of observations and inferences. I worry my students did not understood this well. I want to change my approach to this important Science Skill.

       

      • What method do you recommend to help students understand the difference between an observation and an inference?
      • How important are observations and inferences to content areas besides science?
      • How can students recognize the mathematical aspect of observations?
      • What technologies can teachers use to support a student’s comprehension of observations and inferences?

        • Re: Science Processes and Skills #1 Observations and Inferences
          julesfischy

          Glen great questions! One thing that I do to help with observations and inferences is share images with students.  We look at each image and then talk about what is an actual observation and what is an inference - an example is a picture of a child crying at a birthday party - the observation is that the child is crying and an inference is that they are sad. The students seem to get the concept because it is visual and we have discussed it. 

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            • Re: Science Processes and Skills #1 Observations and Inferences
              glen_w

              Julia,

               

              I've considered using photos and doing a discussion. I think I'll use a form of the photo - discussion when we start school next week.

               

              After a discussion with my science department members yesterday, I'm probably going to implement "Observation or Inference" discussions at the end of activities and labs. As a group, we discussed having students share "observations" and we can guide them to understanding what a "inference" is if they provide one as an "observation."

              • Re: Science Processes and Skills #1 Observations and Inferences

                Pictures are a great way to highlight the difference. It also allows us as teachers the opportunity to manage the process by 'stacking the deck'. By building the progression of slides from simple, obvious pictures with simple inferences based on plain observations, to less obvious debatable pictures, you can manage the progression of the concept. Allow controlled debate in the classroom about a picture. For example, a picture of Mr. Westbrook in the foreground holding a broken coffee mug with a sheepish grin. In the background an angry colleague. The inference could be made that Mr. Westbrook broke the other person's mug, yet, by manipulation, and later revelation of a larger photo, a third subject can be introduced (who was just out of the frame of the first picture) who is the real source of the colleague's anger.

                So, again, by careful planning the difference between observation and inference, can be brought out through manipulated progression and examination of faulty inference.

                Let us know how the first week goes, Glen.

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                  • Re: Science Processes and Skills #1 Observations and Inferences
                    glen_w

                    Peter,

                     

                    Thanks for the suggestion about cropping pictures and then showing the entire image. I've done that before - but had forgotten because it was a while ago. Students will be back in my classroom on Tuesday - I'm so excited! I'm planning to use a modified version of Heron's Fountain and have them try to explain what they observe. I'm confident inferences will be a huge part of our discussion at that time. This is a Wikimedia Common's illustration of the idea ... I'll post photos of my modified setup later.

                    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/62/Heron%27s_Fountain.png/588px-Heron%27s_Fountain.png

                      • Re: Science Processes and Skills #1 Observations and Inferences
                        Bonnie Feather

                        Glen's an ActiveBoard and Active Inspire user.  Don't forget that with the interactive whiteboard software, you can cover up part of an image with shapes and remove one shape at a time to expose part of the image, giving more clues.

                         

                        Also, with several types of software, including Smart Notebook and Active Inspire as well as many document camera softwares, you can use the window shade feature to expose a bit at a time and perhaps most fun of all, the "spotlight" function to move around and just see part of an image.

                         

                        All of these options can make great use of a little preparation and make a lesson more engaging for your students!

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                          • Re: Science Processes and Skills #1 Observations and Inferences
                            glen_w

                            Bonnie,

                             

                            I use the ActivInspire software often and have hidden objects with shapes previously. Your suggestion to cover up part of a picture is something I'd not considered doing. Thanks for reminding me to consider what I've got and find a way to use it more effectively. I've used the "spotlight" feature often to reveal parts of a picture - now I can think of ways to use it for Inquiry ! Thanks for helping me think of yet another method to reach students.

                              • Re: Science Processes and Skills #1 Observations and Inferences
                                Bonnie Feather

                                I know you're a power user- I am glad to have thought of an idea you haven't used- I thought it might help others!

                                 

                                So, have you (all of you) created shapes and hidden them off the screen area?  You can create a pull tab and drag it into the flipchart area, or you can change the page scale and find all sorts of things the teacher has hidden there.

                                 

                                In first grade, I would create picture stories with sound files telling the story.  Then we'd go back and I'd change the page scale so all the spoken words were revealed.  Students had to drag the words into the correct order to recreate the sentences.

                            • Re: Science Processes and Skills #1 Observations and Inferences
                              glen_w

                              Okay - I promised information about the "modified" Heron's Fountain. This was done at the front of my classroom. Students saw everything (nothing was set up as "magic".) There were a LOT of questions as the Fountain ran - followed by comments between students about how an idea might or might not work. I was so excited at how these young Middle School students became engaged and thought deeply about how this might work. It was well worth time drilling out the stoppers and heating / bending the glass tubing.

                               

                        • Re: Science Processes and Skills #1 Observations and Inferences

                          Glen,

                          An oldie but goodie is to create a candle observation. I usually have a large image of a candle on the wall via computer, and go over the safety rules about fire in the classroom, hence not everyone can be close or have a burning candle on their desk. I ask them to make three observations, just the candle, the candle lit, and the candle after it is extinquished. I also ask that they make qualitative and quantitative observations (skill building you know). Then when all are done I give them an opportuntity to ask questions (usually there aren't many). Then I ask them to make one more observation as I eat the candle. The gasps and looks of disbelief are worth the price of "misleading" and teaching them that they need to make more observations using senses other than sight.

                           

                          The set up is important, as I purposely "lead" them to assume it is a candle.

                           

                          I usually use string cheese with an almond sliver wick. I have also seen people use a potato core or apple core, but those need to be dipped in lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown.

                           

                          Exploratorium also has some PD outlines on Process Skills that are excellent.

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                          • How can a FLIP video camera help with Observations?
                            glen_w

                            My students were exploring density differences this past week in 7th grade. By experiment, the class learned that denser things sink in water. Another experiment helped them learn that less dense objects float on water. We then did the this lab in small groups. Imagine the excitement of my Middle School students as their soda cans changed shape before their very eyes. After the squealing and excitement, students started talking together in small groups. This was followed by a HUGE class discussion of why the cans behaved the way they did. Students finally came to the realization that the air inside the cans must have been less dense than the air outside of the cans. I realize this is a simplistic view of the process observed. Students, however, grasped the idea that air has a pressure that is VERY POWERFUL!

                             

                            I had a brilliant idea by the end of the day. I pulled out my FLIP video camera. Several cans were recorded using my FLIP video camera. This is my favorite clip. I'm thinking I should put the FLIP video camera in the hands of my students during more labs!

                             

                             

                            What suggestions can you provide on how students could effectively use a FLIP video camera to help with observations in science?