Science and Teaching for Field Instructors

Making Observations

How we can help learners make careful observations while encouraging wonder and curiosity

Making focused observations in nature brings us into the moment and into relationship with whatever it is that we are observing. Making observations is also a key foundation for all the methods scientists of all disciplines use to explain and understand the natural world. Offering the opportunities for learners to make observations in nature has numerous benefits—from building a connection to nature and the outdoors, to supporting deep learning, to engaging learners directly in science practices and critical thinking. As outdoor science educators and instructors, we can share strategies that build on learners’ existing observation skills and invite learners to make deep observations and form meaningful connections during the course of a program. Learners can carry away and apply these skills in the outdoors, in future academic or learning settings, and in other areas of their lives.

The session is designed to explore different methods and model activities that can strengthen learners’ skills in making observations. Participants discuss the benefits of the model activities and approaches and the ways in which they can be used to support an equitable and inclusive learning experience for learners. Participants also reflect on how instructional decisions such as naming organisms and anthropomorphism can influence learners’ observations. The session also includes opportunities for instructors to reflect on how they can incorporate universal Indigenous values related to being in relationship and reciprocity with nature. Many field instructors cite the model activity from this session as their most effective teaching tool because it offers an approach for shifting from an instructor-centered teaching approach to a learner-centered and nature-centered learning experience. Many program leaders use Making Observations first when facilitating professional learning sessions with instructors.

Goals for this session are:
  • To reflect on practices that support making accurate and detailed observations.
  • To consider how to integrate universal Indigenous values within science education.
  • To model student activities that can be used to deepen learners’ observation skills and nurture engagement, curiosity, wonder, and emotional connections in nature.
  • To consider how focusing on making observations, asking questions, and making connections can support an equitable and inclusive learning experience.
  • To provide a forum for discussion of how and when anthropomorphism and identifying organisms affect learners’ observations and interactions with nature.
  • To reflect on how instructional decisions can impact learners’ experiences.
  • To offer opportunities for participants to practice making observations themselves.

Special Acknowledgements:
We want to acknowledge Youth Outside for reviewing this session and supporting us to develop more equitable, inclusive, and culturally relevant instructional materials. Read more about our collaboration with Youth Outside.

We are also grateful for Annie Sorrell and the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry for supporting us to incorporate Indigenous perspectives on science and connection to the outdoors into this session and BEETLES approaches generally. To learn more about the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment.

View and Download Materials:
Choices for Encouraging Student Observations
Choices for Encouraging Student Observations
Activities and Main Ideas
Activities and Main Ideas
A Whole Bunch of Quotes
A Whole Bunch of Quotes
The Benefits of I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of
The Benefits of I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of
Background Information
Background Information
Applying Session to Instruction
Applying Session to Instruction
References
References
Instructor Guide
Instructor Guide
Instructor Support
Instructor Support
Field Card
Field Card

Notes: Professional learning videos are intended to support program leaders, not as online learning experiences for field instructors. This video was edited to focus on how the program leader leads the session; the actual session is much more participant-focused, and participants spend most of the session exploring and discussing ideas with their peers. We revised this session in 2020, well after the making of this video. The script and this video don’t always agree. We recommend you follow the script if you notice a discrepancy.