Observation: nurturing critical skills for science

Observation and Our Future:

Observation is not simply noticing something. It’s more than that. It’s something that we all start doing from our childhood; something that is done intuitively. All science begins with the close observation and direct experience of physical world. From this foundation children can gather evidence and rather than just describing what others have found to be true children can actively work out the answers to questions themselves.

In the 2006 PISA study into Austrian Steiner schools conclude that this observation and exploration approach would be beneficial to roll out to state schools, these methods `especially concerning science teaching` where an asset to children; the same recommendation came from a National Academies report in the USA. Children learn deeply from observation and observation is critical for science. Scientists use observation collecting data, developing reports, forming hypotheses and theories; and equipping children with this mind set at an early age is a great benefit.

Let’s take a few moments to think about the importance of observation as the foundation of science for children. How observing changes in weather conditions and nature influence the ‘learning’ of science, and how can we do this in our daily busy life.

Why observation?

Wooden Weather Wheel

Sir David Attenborough made a film in 2015 called ‘Conserving Wonder’. At the end of the film Sir David sits among a group of children during an outside lesson and he says “If children grow up not knowing about nature and appreciating it, they will not understand it, and if they don’t understand it, they won’t protect it, and if they don’t protect it, who will?”

Observation is an important tool to nurture in children. Connection with nature and wonder at our natural world. If we can see learning through observation as the first step in children’s science education, we can make purposeful space for this activity in our education of children.

Observation and Nature:

Observing, recording and understanding the weather is a great a start. We all are influenced by the changing weather and climate conditions. Learning through observing changes or exploring nature is a great way to teach children about science. Weather changes are something children easily relate to and understand.

Creating lesson plans concerning nature and weather are easy and can be explored by people of all ages. Children are naturally curious; thus they want to explore the world around them.

Let’s go through the reasons why learning about weather changes and seasons helps in developing scientific thinking in children?

1. Weather is Observable:

   Weather is observable and measurable. Educating children about calling a statement “a fact” is important for scientific thinking. Weather is the perfect approach to instill critical scientific thinking in children’s minds, we can start using scientific language when talking about the weather without it being forced or complex: imagine waking up in the morning, grab a weather wheel (like this one) do they have an idea, a theory, of what the weather will be today? Set that wheel, head downstairs and outside — OK, let’s go and test that theory. We can test just through observation – what’s the weather actually doing today. OK you just did your first experience. Forming a theory, testing it and drawing a conclusion.

Seeing the looming thunderstorm, understanding the concept of snowy days, or exploring the feeling of heat while playing outdoors always lead to important “ah-ha” moments.

Connecting these observations to facts or exact measurements makes metrology exciting. That’s why having a school or family weather station is a great idea. Its great fun to be able to work with children and look for patterns, digging into previous lightning data from thunderstorms, rain fall or just going through snow averages in your area over the past couple of years?  Through observations we can then see different patterns and differences in seasons.

2.Cultivates an Interest:

Working like this with children, outside in nature, connecting with what they can see, on a level that resonates with them can cultivate the interests of children in science as they grow. 

3. Awareness of the Environment: Reducing Anxiety

An understanding of how weather and nature works can develop awareness in your child about their impact on the environment and its potential danger. Another important reason for learning about weather is that it can alleviate for some children anxiety they may have related to thunderstorms and other serious events. Often when we understand how something works it is less scary.

4. Metrology in other conversations

Learning about weather conditions provokes scientific thinking of other subjects including agriculture & food production. It’s a great platform to launch into a unit of study on the water cycle or habitats for example.

How an understanding of nature helps in discovering science?

We’ve already discussed how changing weather conditions can help in the exploration of science. Another important science element that helps in scientific critical thinking is exploring nature. Let’s discuss this one out.

1. Nature’s exploration: enhancing attention:

 One of the best results of exploring nature, for example, going for a walk in the park, or a view of nature out of the window can result in increased focused attention in the classroom while discovering science subjects.

2. Nature’s exploration: development interest: 

Research has indicated that outdoor classes, studies immersed in nature, increase student’s engagement in classwork and when they have returned to the class afterward.

3. Nature’s exploration: heightened creativity:

When it comes to scientific thinking, creativity is essential. Research in schools has shown that exploring nature, playing outdoors and physical activity makes children significantly more creative and the learning is retained deeply.

Hectic Life?

Are you living a busy life? Feeling a bit overwhelmed? We’ve all been there – here’s what we must remember nature is good for all of us.

It’s not only children who need to explore nature and look for exciting changing weather. We all are in desperate need of taking out some time from our busy schedule and explore the science of nature. Let’s just discuss some of the quick ways to discover and explore nature in our busy hectic life

1.            Bring a plant inside your house:

One of the best small ways to “go green” is to adopt a plant. Try planting small plants on your windowsill, in your garden, or bringing in a house plant. It makes us productive and creative when we are around plants.

2.            Bring in the smell of the outdoors:

Phytoncides are small compounds in plants which are natural oils that provide aroma in the air. Bring them in your home to have the smell of nature.

3.            Green Micro-Break:

Recent research from the University of Melbourne showed that spending almost 40 seconds while looking outside to the landscape can help in re-establishing concentration. Ask your child to take small breaks while doing homework.   

4.            Go for a walk or exercise:

Try exercising outdoors with your child instead of just going to the gym. Go for a walk on some seaside or beautiful natural landscape around you.

5.            Walk Barefoot:

Sound crazy. Isn’t it? But it’s such a great idea to walk barefoot as we spend most of our time in our shoes. Try walking shoeless on the grass in your backyard or go to a beach at the seaside.

Connection to nature and exploring the world around us our human impulses.  Children should have a scientific foundation that empowers them to question, excites them to explore, and equips them with a framework to examine. We have discussed how observation is the foundation of science for children, how nature and weather wheels can be used in exploring science, and how this is possible to engage in nature studies in today’s modern busy life. Remember, to solve tomorrow’s problems we need bright engaged people who think with imagination! And that imagination will come only through exploring, identifying, and knowing the nature of science.