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Online Course for Teachers: Teaching Evolution

About this Course 


SESSION 1: What Is the Nature of Science?

Elaborate Part C: Making Observations

The foundation of science is careful observation. Observation is limited by the tools and techniques available, as well as the person making the observations. It makes a difference whether we are using the human eye, a microscope, a scanning electron microscope, or spectrophotometer. Each new tool allows for observations and data at new levels, which can change previous explanations of phenomena. The kinds of observations made and the data collected can vary tremendously. Not all aspects of nature, for example, are easily measurable and quantifiable. It is easier to measure the beak depth of Galapagos finches than it is to measure their courtship behavior or songs.

During some part of the day I wrote my Journal, and took much pains in describing carefully and vividly all that I had seen; and this was good practice.

-- Charles Darwin,
The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, p.78. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1958

Guidelines for Making Observations

Use descriptive language, such as modifiers and adjectives, to describe appearance, texture and scent. Read Darwin's description of a swarm of locusts in Argentina.

Take careful measurements. Calculate "Which table is longer?"

Draw sketches. Look at Darwin's sketches.

Make analogies. For example, "This feels like..;" "This looks like..."

Note exactly where you are observing something in the field. Watch this Evolution Show One video segment about Darwin's observations of birds. Note that Darwin didn't label which island each finch came from because he thought they were the same species and had to rely on someone else's data!

Image from Evolution Show Historical Re-enactment of one of Darwin's peers examining a bird.

Observations of Birds

View in:
QuickTime | RealPlayer

(guidelines adapted from from WGBH Educational Programming,
Teaching High School Science Guidebook, p. 53. Boston, 2000)

Image of a Coral Reef

To practice your observational skills, look at this image of a "Coral Reef" On a piece of paper write and sketch your observations, using the above guidelines (e.g., use descriptive language).

Next: Elaborate Part D: Using Science Process in the Classroom

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