Natural Science Unit 1 Laboratory Activity:
Testing your powers of observation
Goal: To learn something about how assumptions affect observation
This week's lab helps you understand something about how you observe and process information. Next week's lab asks you to observe the weather for one week, then use your observations to predict the weather for the next few days. Even if you are not performing the lab yourself, think about how you would need to go about doing it.
Materials and Equipment:
- 15-20 small objects which will fit on the tray. These could be things like buttons, pencils, pins, bottle caps, forks--anything you have lying around the house that is at least an inch long (so that it can be easily seen). Cover the tray so that its contents cannot be seen.
- A duplicate of at least one object on the tray.
- An opaque container large enough to hold the duplicate object. Place the duplicate in the container and seal the container with tape or rubber bands.
- A subject. If you are the subject person, then someone else should choose the objects for the tray. The subject should not see the tray ahead of time.
- Watch with second hand.
- Paper and pencil.
This is not a contest. It is only an exercise to show you something about the way you or your subject observe the things around yourselves. Do not stress yourself or your subject over your "performance", since emotional pressure may alter the results.
- Position the subject where he or she can see the tray easily and in good lighting.
- Uncover the tray and allow the subject to observe the tray for 60 seconds. The subject may not touch the tray or anything on it.
- Cover the tray.
- Description #1: Give the subject 3 minutes to write down a list of all the items on the tray.
- Compare the list with the actual items. Record the number of items on the tray, the number of items correctly identified, the number of items misidentified, and the number of items not listed by the subject.
- Allow the subject to choose any two items to hold and examine them for exactly one minute.
- Retrieve and hide the objects.
- Description #2: Have the subject spend 3 minutes writing down a description of the two objects. The subject may include anything that he wishes in the description.
- Allow the subject to choose two other objects to examine.
- Description #3: Allow the subject three minutes to manipulate and examine the objects and write down the descriptions while examining them.
- Description #4: Allow the subject to choose two more objects to examine (making six closely-examined objects in all) and allow him three minutes to complete the examination and description, but this time require that he note the color, hardness, and comparative weights of the two objects.
- Description #5: Give the subject the sealed container. Tell the subject that the object inside has a duplicate on the tray, and leave the tray visible. Have the subject examine the container and explain what tests or observational methods he or she is making and describe the results (for example, "Shook box so object struck insides of box--sound shows object is metal or wood.")
- Have the subject guess the identity of the object in the container, and record the reasons for the identification. Be sure to record characteristics which eliminated possible candidates as well as characteristics which identified the final choice.
- Identification and Test (description #6): Explain that the subject cannot open the container yet, but must test his hypothesis on the identity of the contents. Record the methods used to test the hypothesis.
- Open the container and determine the correctness of the guess.
Figure out the best way to present your data so that you can compare the different descriptions easily. What characteristics will you look for? What quantitative could you uncover in this experiment?
Write a short summary of your procedure and its results.
- Describe your procedure, and include a list of the contents of the tray.
- Include the subject's descriptions from each trial and compare them.
- What observations are substantiated by the identity of the object in the container?
- What observations led the subject astray in determining the contents of the container?
In particular, does the undirected exercise in #10 produce information in description #3 which is not in the directed exercise #11 description #4 results?
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