Observing ants
Measuring experiments

Observations vs Experiments

How are we SCIENCE-ING?

Lesson Summary

Lesson Summary: Comparing different ways that scientists collect data.

Essential Question(s): What is the difference between an experiment and an observational study? Which one are we doing for this Citizen Science project?

Established Goals/Objectives: At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Understand the differences between an observational study and an experiment

Materials: Depending on the experiment chosen, materials will vary. For assessment, you may need poster paper or graphic organizers.

21st Century Skills – Critical Thinking, Collaboration (assigned roles), Technology Literacy

Teacher Background Information: An “experiment” is defined as a test, trial or procedure used to discover something unknown. An “observational study” is a measurement or survey of members of a sample (without trying to affect them). Sometimes, (like in the case of finding what insects are inside the classroom or school), observational studies are the only way researchers can explore certain questions.

Lesson Preparation: Choose an insect related experiment. Some suggestions and links are included below.

Activity/Investigation: After completing the chosen experiment, have students compare the differences between that experiment and collecting images for the Never Home Alone iNaturalist page. Students may work in separate groups to create posters that help define the pros and cons of each method of scientific inquiry. Another idea is for students to create a play that describes how each method worked for enriching their understanding of insects in and around their school.

Assessment: The student product of a posert, graphic organizer or play can act as formative assessments. Also, you may include a personal student reflection on which type of inquiry is used for the Never Home Alone iNaturalist project, and how it differs from other forms of scientific inquiry. This formative assessment may be a note in their science or engineering notebooks or a quick video reflection using a platform like Flipgrid.


Next Generation Science Standards

  • 2-LS4-1: Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.
  • K-LS-1: Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals need to survive.
  • 3-LS3-2: Use evidence (e.g., observations, patterns) to support an explanation.
  • 3-LS4-2: Use evidence (e.g., observations, patterns) to construct an explanation.
  • 3-LS3-1: Similarities and differences in patterns can be used to sort and classify natural phenomena.

Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Analyzing data in 3–5 builds on K–2 experiences and progresses to introducing quantitative approaches to collecting data and conducting multiple trials of qualitative observations. When possible and feasible, digital tools should be used.

NC Standards

5.L.2.3 Infer the effects that may result from the interconnected relationship of plants and animals to their ecosystem.
4.L.1 Understand the effects of environmental changes, adaptations and behaviors that enable animals (including humans) to survive in changing habitats.
1.L.1.1 Recognize that plants and animals need air, water, light (plants only), space, food and shelter and that these may be found in their environment.

This lesson was prepared by Gregory Eyman, K-5 STEM, Brentwood Magnet Elementary School of Engineering.

Never Home Alone: Lessons and Activities