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Observation vs inference

September 14, 2010

After a few weeks of the introduction stuff, setting up our notebooks and lab safety I’m finally doing some science! One of my favorite things to teach each year are the science process skills.


It’s not a particularly exciting unit, but there is just something about going over the skills and showing the students that they already do these things (and ARE scientists!) that makes me happy. Any time I can connect something in my class to something in the “real world” means that I’ve done my job.

As I was preparing a lesson for later this week I decided to test it out on my husband.

Thanks, babe!

I gave him a lime, some colored pencils and sticky notes and told him to write down as many observations as he could.


He was game and wrote down everything that he observed about the lime. Afterwards I showed him the “see, hear, touch and smell” sheet and told him to put his sticky notes into the different categories.


As he was placing them on the paper and explaining why he placed them there, we found that two of the sticky notes didn’t fit into any of the categories.

They said “was attached to something else” and “appears clean”, in case you can’t read his chicken scratch.

Anyone want to take a guess why these didn’t fit anywhere?

It’s because they’re inferences! Inferences are different than observations because they are more than just an observation, they include prior knowledge. When Carl saw the little dimple at the end of the lime, he said that it was attached to something else because he *knows” that. The same thing with the lime “appearing” clean. Just because it doesn’t have dirt on it (an observation!) doesn’t mean that it’s clean. I bet we would be able to find the skin teeming with microorganisms if we put it under a microscope.

Cool, huh?


3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2010 12:26 pm

    Fun activity!

  2. September 16, 2010 6:11 pm

    I think I am stealing this one! Thanks!

  3. September 16, 2010 8:41 pm

    Good one! I’ve been doing this one: once a week as a bellringer too.

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