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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.


Planning learning opportunities at different curriculum levels

Aspect of task at level 1/2 Aspect of task at level 5

Framing of task

The task has been shaped to eliminate ambiguity: what is displayed directs attention to what needs to be observed: e.g. a simple clear line drawing, a very carefully framed photograph, a purposefully selected simple object, a very simple identification key.

The sense(s) and observation tools involved  are clearly identified for the students.

The task involves use of simple familiar language to talk about the act of observing and making meaning: e.g. “I see…, I think.., I wonder…”


Framing of task

The task is open to interpretation because it is not self-evident what the focus of the observation/data gathering should be, or why: e.g. a ‘busy’ photograph, a compound image with a number of different elements, a real thing with many different features, a complex identification key.

The task may require students to make choices about observation methods and tools.

The task requires students to explicitly differentiate between when they (or scientists) are shaping an observation and when they are making an inference. 

Some tasks will challenge students to shape testable hypotheses from their inferences.

Some tasks might provide opportunities to explore instances where indirect observations must be made because more direct methods cannot be used.

Choice of context

The context is likely to be familiar or easily associated with something that is already familiar to many students.

The context can be readily accessed.

Choice of context

A wider range of contexts will be used: some familiar, some less so.

The context might present an unexpected or surprising aspect of something so familiar that it tends to be taken for granted.

Prior science knowledge

The task uses everyday ideas and language, or very simple and familiar science ideas, to give meaning to the observation focus.

Prior science knowledge

The task draws on students’ prior science knowledge of relevant concepts. These act as a guide to what it might be important to observe, or what data might be relevant to gather.

Metacognitive awareness

Tasks encourage students to talk about the thinking they do as they make observations or gather data. In this way they build awareness of when they are being careful observers and meaning-makers.

Metacognitive awareness

The task provides opportunities for students to talk about instances when inferences are central to meaning-making (either their own and that of others, including scientists).

Resources for teaching

Level 1 & 2

Level 2

Level 3 & 4

Level 5

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