Billion Oyster Project

Observation and Inference


Unit

Introductory Lessons

Grade

6-8th

Class Periods

2

Setting

Classroom

Subject Areas

Science, ELA, Social Studies


Summary

Students will look at various objects to practice the skills of observation and inference.

Objectives

  1. Describe an object with clarity and detail.
  2. Develop inferences that are connected directly to the observation.
  3. Strengthen inferences with thoughtful questions.

Materials and Resources

Supplies

Unusual objects for making observation and inferences (things that a middle school student would probably not have seen before). For example:

  • melon baller
  • pear corer
  • textile shuttle
  • sailor's palm
  • antique carpenter compass
  • antique medical supplies (like an ear syringe)

Before you get started

Tips for Teachers

    • The “Engage” section of the lesson includes a discussion of observations, inferences and questions all in a row.  You can consider breaking up that discussion throughout the lesson as the students practice each skill.
    • Consider whether you want to introduce the terms objective and subjective as they relate to the ideas of observation and inference.

    Preparation

    N/A

    Background

    Making thoughtful observations and inferences is an essential part of doing research and working in the field.  Students often have a difficult time making detailed observations and quality inferences about something with which they are partially familiar because they want to jump to the conclusion about what it is, instead of slowing down and taking a close look.  It is important for students to practice the skills of observation and inference in the controlled environment of the classroom before going out into the field.  It is helpful to begin with objects with which the students are not at all familiar because then they can focus more on their observations.  Afterwards, students can practice the same skill with objects that are more familiar.

    Instruction Plan

    Engage

    1. In this activity the teacher leads the students through an observation, inference and question about a photo of an unusual animal called a blue dragon.

    2. Show the class the image of the blue dragon in the Observation Inference Images powerpoint.

    3. Give students one observation about the blue dragon.  

      • For example, “This organism has finger-like parts that are black on the tips and are on both sides of its body.”

    4. Ask: Based on what I just said, how would you define “observation?”

    5. Ask: What senses should we use to make observations? (Everything but tasting!)

    6. Ask: How can we make our observations more accurate? (Spend time quietly looking at it, feeling it, etc. Instead of looking at the object as a whole, start by looking at individual parts of the object and study them carefully.)

    7. Give students one inference about the blue dragon.

      • For example, “The organism uses these finger-like parts to dig into the sand and hide from predators.  Maybe the tips are black because they are harder than the rest of the body, like fingernails, making easier to dig.”

    8. Ask: Based on what I just said, how would you define “inference?”

    9. Explain: We make observations and inferences all day long without thinking about it.  This is an integral part of navigating our surroundings.  But there are pitfalls of observations and inferences that we need to be careful about.  Sometimes we think we know what something is as soon as we glance at it, so we don’t take the time to look at it more carefully.

    10. Explain: Even after careful observation and thoughtful inferences, we likely will not know everything there is to know about an object.

    11. Ask: How can we continue to probe deeper, even if we have exhausted our observations and inference.  (Ask questions!)

    12. Give the students one question about the blue dragon.

      • For example, “Exactly, how many finger-like parts does the animal have?”

    13. Point out that a good question, followed up by research can lead to more observations and inferences.  Maybe we could research other photos of this organism and find one that shows all the finger-like parts clearly, then we could count them (observation) and think more about how they might function (inference).

    Explore

    In this activity, the students receive three unusual objects one at a time.  With each new object the students practice an additional skill: observation, inference and asking questions.

    Making Detailed Observations - Object #1

    1. Students get into small groups.

    2. Each student gets an Observation Inference Practice worksheet.

    3. Each group gets an unusual object. If anyone in the group knows what the object is or how it works, trade the object out for another.  The object should not be known or understood by anyone in the group.

    4. Use as many of your five senses as appropriate.  How does it look? smell? feel? sound?

    5. Circulate around the room and help the students make their observations more detailed.  

    6. For example, if a student says, “This object is small,” ask her, “How small?  Describe the length. 1cm? 1 inch? The size of a button? What is the shape of the object?”

    Initial Observation

    More detailed observation

    It’s small

    This object is the size of a dime, and is flat, but is a square shape.


    1. If a student says, “This object is made of wood,” ask him, “What color is the wood?  Is the wood hard or soft?  Does it feel heavy or light?”

    Initial Observation

    More detailed observation

    It’s made of wood

    This object is made of a very lightweight wood that is a tan color with lines running through it.


    1. Try to get around to every group to help students deepen their observations.

    2. Students choose one observation to read to their group.  Group members help each other make each observation more detailed.  Students record the improved observation on their Observation Inference Practice worksheet.


    Making Observations AND Inferences - Object #2

    1. Bring class together briefly and discuss: Sometimes our inferences are not based on the observations and only based on prior assumptions we have.  How can we make sure our inferences are closely tied to our observations? (Repeat the observation at the beginning of the inference.)

    2. Each group gets a new object.

    3. Again, if anyone in the group knows what the object is or how it works, trade it out.  

    4. Students make observations and inferences about the object and write their ideas on the Observation Inference Practice worksheet.

    5. Bring the class together and have each group share out one observation and inference about their object.  

    6. Take the time to discuss and critique each observation and inference.

    7. Students improve upon their observations and inference in the Observation Inference Practice worksheet.


    Making Observations and Inferences AND Asking Questions - Object #3

    1. Bring class together and briefly revisit the importance of asking questions.

    2. Each group gets a new object.

    3. Again, if anyone in the group knows what the object is or how it works, trade it out.  

    4. Students make observations and inferences and ask questions about the object and write their ideas on the Observation Inference Practice worksheet.

    Explain

    1. In this activity, the use of each unusual object from the previous activity is revealed.

      • This portion of the lesson may need to be completed in a second class period.

    2. The Observation Inference Practice worksheet intentionally does NOT include a place for students to guess what the objects are for, so that students focus on their individual observations and inferences.  

    3. However, guessing what the objects are and finding out what they are is fun!  

    4. Give students an opportunity to write down a guess for each object in the margin of their worksheet.

    5. Reveal each object’s true use.

    6. Enhance this portion of the lesson with a slideshow that has images or videos of each item in use.

    Elaborate

    1. In this activity, the students make observations and inferences about a more familiar creature, the blue crab.

    2. Bring the class back together and show them the image of the blue crab in the Observation Inference Images powerpoint.

    3. Explain: We will be seeing organisms in our Oyster Restoration Station that look somewhat familiar: they might look like a shrimp or a crab or a worm.  When observing these organisms, it is very important that we don’t jump to conclusions about what the organism is.  We first need to look at the different parts of the organism and describe them (observations) and then we can consider what their particular purpose might be (inference).

    4. Have students offer observations.  

    5. Do not accept the observation, “It’s a crab.”  Students must not jump to the big picture or “the answer,” but look at the details of the organism.

    6. Read down through the table below to see an example of a teacher helping a student deepen and strengthen his/her observation and inference and question.




      Remember, inferences don’t need to be 100% correct for students to be doing really good thinking!

    Evaluate

    1. For an evaluation, show the image of the gammarid amphipod in the Observation Inference Images powerpoint.

    2. Each student gets an Observation Inference Evaluation worksheet.

    3. Decide how much assistance you feel you need to give students for this final activity.  You could repeat the process above or you could treat it more like a quiz and have students fill it out silently and then collect it.