How Scientific Observations Lead to Scientific Questioning

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  • 0:03 Making Observations
  • 1:26 The Scientific Process
  • 3:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Scientific observations are a major component of the scientific process because they lead scientists to ask questions about the world around them. These questions may then be refined with continued observation, or they may be tested through experimentation.

Making Observations

Scientists are very curious people. They love exploring the natural world around them and asking questions about the why, the how, the when, and the where of everything. But before they can do this, they must first make observations. These are sensory experiences that lead scientists to ask questions and seek answers about natural phenomena. While many observations are seen or heard, they can also occur through touch, smell, and more.

For example, you might hear two birds singing to each other, or you might notice that blood has a metallic taste. You might feel your skin's hairs stand up when you get cold, see certain flowers in your garden closing up at night and re-opening in the morning, or smell a strong odor of a skunk in your backyard one evening.

All of these are observations. You are seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, and smelling the world around you, and these observations should lead you to wonder about these occurrences and how you can find answers to your questions. Why do the birds sing to each other that way? What component of blood makes it taste metallic? Why do your hairs stand up on end? How do your garden flowers know the day is over? And where is that skunk, so I can run away?! Okay, that last one isn't a scientific question, but you get the idea here.

The Scientific Process

Observations are the first step in the overall scientific process that scientists go through. This process involves a scientist making an observation, asking a question, looking for an answer (often through experimentation), and then interpreting their results and sharing them with the scientific community. Sometimes, the results aren't clear, and the process is repeated multiple times.

In fact, many times an experiment is repeated or expanded upon because of observations that were made during the experiment itself! Sometimes, scientists will answer one question, but based on what they observe during the process of answering that first question, they come up with even more questions.

Let's use flowers growing in your backyard as an example. Initially, you observed that this specific plant closes its flowers at night and opens them during the day. Your scientific question from this observation might be, 'Why does this occur?' Based on your knowledge of plants, you might hypothesize that this process is tied to the amount of sunlight the plant is receiving, which signals when it is day and when it is night.

The next step is to run an experiment to test your hypothesis. You put several of these plants in a room where light is controlled so that it follows a normal daily cycle. You put another set of plants in a room where the light is on all the time, and yet another set of plants is placed in a room where it is dark all of the time.

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