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Gather & interpret data

Science knowledge is based on data derived from direct, or indirect, observations of the natural physical world. We gather data by using our senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell - to make observations. Making careful observations often includes measuring something. Observations are influenced by what you already know. 

Interpreting data involves making meaning from observations. A conclusion you draw from observations is called an inference. To help students differentiate between observation and inference, ask:

  • Is it something we can see, hear, smell, touch, or taste? Is it measurable?
  • What did you see? (observation); What might that mean? (inference).

To try and ensure their explanations are robust, i.e. that their inferences are valid, scientists do a number of different things, for example:

  • They ask questions like: “Could there be another explanation for this data?”
  • They might collect more data, perhaps using a different method. They might also test alternative explanations.
  • They communicate and debate their ideas with other scientists.

Understanding the importance of observation in science is essential if we are to develop scientifically literate citizens.

Resources for teaching

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