Inference or Observation?by: Kevin D. Finson

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Learning about what inferences are, and what a good inference is, will help students become more scientifically literate and better understand the nature of science in inquiry. Students in K–4 should be able to give explanations about what they investigate (NSTA 1997) and that includes doing so through inferring. This article provides some tips for teaching students about the importance of quality inferences.

  • Elementary
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Reviews (7)
  • on Thu Sep 08, 2016 4:46 PM

This article was very simple yet very informational. It provides good examples of both inferences and observations. Knowing the difference between both inferences and observations is helpful for both teachers and students. The terms can be mixed up, but this article would help someone who may not understand the difference.

Brian S
Brian S

  • on Wed Mar 09, 2016 6:43 AM

I have used the activities listed in this article during reading. However I have never thought about as it relates to science. I enjoyed reading this article because it made it very plain to see that students have the need to understand the difference between inferring skills and observation. Helping students to see the difference between the two provides them with the ability to process higher order thinking skills.

Javaye Stubbs  (Flowery Branch, GA)
Javaye Stubbs (Flowery Branch, GA)

  • on Fri Oct 12, 2012 12:28 PM

After first differentiating between an observation and an inference, this author introduces a chart that lists inferences that come from observations about a drawing of a tree. The author continues with five tips about inferences. This tips include comments such as inferences are as good as the observation, inferences are only one of many possible explanations, inferences are not always correct, inferences are influenced by prior knowledge, and educators need to examine student inferences in an effort to help students apply them correctly. He elaborates on each of his five tips.

Adah  (San Antonio, TX)
Adah (San Antonio, TX)

  • on Wed May 18, 2011 2:35 PM

This article presents a basic understanding of observation and inference. The content could be easily made into a lesson plan that could be used to discuss these skill that younger students typically struggle with.

Wendy R  (Pocatello, ID)
Wendy R (Pocatello, ID)

  • on Tue Nov 08, 2016 3:05 PM

In his article, Finson provides teachers with five valuable tips for helping students make sense of and understand the differences between inferences and observations in order to know how to use each science process skill appropriately. I tend to agree with his statement, “teachers are quick to use them with their students and sometimes too quick to assume their students readily know the difference” (Finson, 2010, p.45). Without some direct modeling and practice, students are likely to not completely understand how and why to observe and appropriate inferences that could be made from those observations. I particularly like his first tip on needing to look beyond the simple definitions of the words and model and discuss what the differences look like. Finson also points out that inferences should be based on good observations; the better the observations, the better the inference. The most relevant and important tip is five. “As teachers, we need to help our students examine the assumptions they use when making inferences” (Finson, 2010, p.47). A student’s inference also says a lot about the level of understanding he or she may hold regarding a particular topic. It is imperative for teachers to pay attention to their students’ observations and inferences to discover errors in their thinking, as well as greater levels of understanding.

Hilary Pinter
Hilary Pinter

  • on Tue May 03, 2011 10:55 PM

This article provides good background information for teachers on the difference between an observation and an inference. Reading this article might help a teacher grasp a better understanding of the difference between the two and what implications this has for instruction.

Kate  (Louisville, CO)
Kate (Louisville, CO)

  • on Fri Apr 29, 2011 8:14 AM

One of the building blocks of the inquiry process is making solid, unbiased observations. This article features an activity to help students practice and understand the difference between an inference and an observation. The author also points out several vital "tips" that indicate the limitations and properties of inferences. This is a very simple, yet effective activity that would be essential to prepare students for inquiry based learning.

Angelika Fairweather  (Bradenton, FL)
Angelika Fairweather (Bradenton, FL)

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