Powerful observations


About this Inquiry Tool

Everyone is born a scientist. We start making observations from the moment we are born — touch, taste, sound, sight — observation is inherent in our way of being and living in the world.

Powerful observations give you the evidence that you need as you critically reflect on what you know. By observing natural events, organisms, and environments, we develop evidence that can be used to answer “great questions” — the how or why questions.

Powerful observations are:

  • Detailed - applying multiple senses, using numeric data, images and words to describe properties, relationships, environmental condition.

  • Systematic - goals are set. For example, your goal might be to answer a question, or to monitor particular variables. Ideally, you record the same types of information as you observe different organisms, sites and at different times, to allow for comparison.

  • Clearly communicated - so others can gain from them.

In the 360° observation experience, the students are immersed in two habitats at Cocos Island, Costa Rica, where they learn more about making observations. They are invited to look around in the rainforest and under the water, describing where they are and what they see.

In the follow-up activity, the students create a field research journal for ongoing outdoor observations. The students use their journals to record their observations in the “Sit Spot” activities described in this lesson plan. A Sit Spot is a place that you go to regularly to look, listen, feel and even smell your surrounding landscape.

When to use these lessons

We suggest that these lessons for building observation skills over time. They can be used to strengthen other inquiry skills like asking great questions and critical reflection.

We encourage everyone to take the “Sit Spot” activity described in this lesson outside, and to practice observation skills on an ongoing basis. Encouraging questioning while conducting this lesson can promote students’ ownership, empowerment, engagement, and allow your students to express their own interests.

As an educator, you know your students best. The lessons provided here are just one way to explore the concept of powerful observations.

Lessons objectives

As students explore what makes powerful observation, they will:

  • Conduct observations

  • Record observations

  • Explain why observations are so important for making inferences


Lesson 1 - Powerful observation 360° video: 60 min

Lesson 2 - Field Journal Activity: 60 min

Lesson 3 - Sit Spot: 60 min


  • 360° Field journal activity

  • VR headsets or tablet devices (recommended), or computers with internet access

  • Pencil and paper or notebooks for students’ field notes

  • AR/VR Guide

About 360° videos

360° Videos (360°) are video recordings where an omnidirectional camera films a view in every direction at once. It’s like being the passenger in a car. You can look all around you, but the driver (filmmaker) decides where to take you.

Virtual reality headsets provide greater immersion in the 360° videos, but you can also view them in a web browser. The ‘Magic Window’ on a mobile device allows users to view 360° content without a headset. Move and rotate the tablet or phone to change the viewing angle.

Note - If you are using Safari on an iPad or iPhone to view a 360 video or VR experience, you will need to adjust your browser settings to allow motion tracking. For more information, see our Troubleshooting guide.

Lesson 1 - Powerful observation 360°

Part 1

40 min

1. Explain to your students:

      • Today we’re going to think about how to make powerful observations.

      • To get started, we are going to go to a tropical island!

2. Invite students to watch the 360° video in pairs. If they are using headsets, encourage them to talk about what they are seeing with a partner. Students may wish to watch the video more than once. Plan accordingly.

Part 2

20 min

1. Once your students have completed the 360° experience, invite them to share what they learned about making observations using the questions below as a guide:

    • What’s an observation?

    • Compare your observations with your partner’s.

        • What did you observe?

        • What’s something that you observed that your partner did not?

        • What’s something that your partner observed that you did not?

      • Why is it important to record similar kinds of data in different places? What does that allow you or others to do?

      • Sometimes the only way for researchers to conduct observations is by using video. What are some challenges that you had making observations using videos instead of visiting a place in person?

Lesson 2- Field journal activity

If you plan to continue to develop observation skills in the outdoors with your students, the lesson linked on the platform guides students in creating a helps a journal to record their observations for a Sit Spot.

Part 1

20 min

1. In the slideshow, students can see examples of real field journals. There are examples drawn from different disciplines (e.g., biology, geology, archaeology).

Student instructions:

“A field journal is essential to a researcher’s work. When you go into the field, you need to record all your observations, thoughts and questions. These can be in the form of drawings and sketches, writing or small artifacts that you find.

Your field journal will be unique to you, reflecting your personal style. It may take some trial and error before you come up with the way that works best for you. There is no one way to keep a field journal. Discover some field journals on the slides that follow.”

2. Give your students time to look through the examples.

3. Discuss with your students:

      • What are some ways that researchers use their field journals?

      • Researchers record general observations like the time and weather conditions - what details do you think are important to record when you’re making field observations? e.g., date, location, time, light levels, weather conditions, how you obtained the observation (“I heard ...”)

      • What are some good practices for sketching your observations?

          • draw only what you can see

          • add labels

          • add notes about where you observed the object that you sketched

          • add measurements or estimated sizes

Part 2

40 min

1. Provide time for your students to create their journals.

2. Debrief by asking your students:

3. What is one thing you are looking forward to doing with your field journal?

Lesson 3- Sit spot

Lesson 3 is a commonly used introduction to field research: the Sit Spot. A Sit Spot is a place that you go to regularly to look, listen, feel and even smell your surrounding landscape. This observation activity is one that you can repeat for 10-20 minutes over a period of consecutive days, weeks or seasons to allow students to observe changes in the environment over time. Using pictures and words, the students record in their science notebooks what they see, hear, smell, and feel.

Part 1

30 min

1. Explain the Sit Spot activity to your students using the following as a guide:

      • A Sit Spot is a way for us to see, experience, understand and appreciate the natural world around us. Sit Spots can help us tap into our senses, develop our observation skills and discover our creative side.This is a solitary, silent activity that will take place for 10 min and we will do several times over the course of the week/month. You will use the journal you created to record your observations.

2. Select a location for a Sit Spot with your students.

      • Set boundaries for your students to keep them within the range of your sight or voice, while allowing them enough space to spread out.

      • The Sit Spot should be located outside (or at a place that has a view of the outside) and be in an area that you can visit regularly, rain or shine.

      • We recommend that you choose a location that is close and relatively familiar. Locations where two types of habitat meet can be particularly interesting.

3. Help students to select a focus for each Sit Spot excursion. Ask students: What is your goal for today? You can suggest goals such as:

      • Choose two objects in your Sit Spot and describe them in detail.

      • Do a biodiversity survey of your spot: record all of the different organisms that you can find.

      • Choose an organism in your Sit Spot and describe what it’s doing. Where does it go? What objects does it interact with?

      • Measure 3 plants with a ruler. Sketch the plants, and include your measurements in your sketches.

4. Ask students to record a goal in their field journal, and review some tips for making observations.

5. Discuss tips for observing:

      • Use your senses

      • Record details about your excursion: record the date, time, weather, and location every time you go out. This will help you to notice patterns.

      • Try to track the same things over time - use headings and tables to organize your observations and ideas.

      • Sketch objects and locations that you find

      • Record questions that you have

6. Allow students 10-20 mins to sit and make observations. The time is up to you!

Part 2

30 min

  1. Ask a student to sketch a map of the area where you found your Sit Spots on a flipchart or on the board. You can reuse this map for future discussions.

  2. Ask each student to mark their “Sit Spot” on the map, and to share something about their experience:

      • What’s something interesting or new that you noticed in the experience?

      • What are you wondering about now?

3. Find a partner and compare your observations with one another.

      • What kinds of descriptions did you record more often? For example, did you focus on recording colours? Shapes? Textures? Sounds? Did you use more words or illustrations?

      • What’s something that you observed that your partner did not?

      • What’s something that your partner observed that you did not?

Returning to the same place is very valuable. We recommend taking students back to the same place on consecutive days, weeks or seasons. Encourage students to record and share observations, make sketches, and consider the changes occurring as the forces of nature take their course.

For more information, go to the Inquiry tools guide.