Mystery Footprints – Observation vs. Inference

footprints-mystery-activity
Image Source: Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science (1998)

Materials:

  • Updated for 2015 – Mystery Footprints – Observation vs. Inference (Google Slides Public link)
    • You can download this Google Slide Presentation in any format
      • Click “File” then “Download as” and choose ppt, etc
  • Handout for Mystery Footprint Activity (pdf)
  • projector

Background

This is one of my favorite activities to practice making observations and inferences, it really helps the students differentiate between the two. As I mentioned in my ‘Boy in the Water‘ post, students tend to clump their observations and inferences together, they think they are the same thing.

For example, after viewing the first panel of the image, they will say that they ‘see two animals running towards each other.’ and my response is, “I don’t see two animals running towards each other, but I do see two sets of tracks”. After a few tries, they refine their answers and start to see the ‘facts’ of the image. Then we talk about the ‘story’ behind the facts.

When doing this activity, before I show them the first panel for the image, I stress how important it is not to share, or shout out, their thoughts or answers as soon as they see the image. Why is that important? Why can’t we share our answers right away? I stress to them that when they share their answers, they are taking away opportunities for their peers to think about what they are seeing.

For example, if someone asked you to name a vegetable, and I shouted out BROCCOLI, my answer would creep into everyone’s thoughts and BROCCOLI would push away any ideas about vegetables that didn’t have a chance to develop. Instead of sweet potatoes, or even yucca, you are now thinking about broccoli. It is important to let everyone have a chance to see the image, think about it, and to process and form their ideas. Their ideas may end up being the same as yours, but they may also think of something totally different. Once everyone has had a chance to process their thoughts, we can share our ideas and have a discussion where everyone can contribute and develop their thoughts further.

This activity was originally published in Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science (1998) and the book is available as a free download. You can find more details on pages 87-89 for this lesson.

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