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What Happened?

A group of people gathered around a table, looking at a document or map.
What Happened?

An observation activity to prepare for an Exploratorium field trip.

What Is Appropriate for My Students?

Grades K–5

Your students will benefit from listening to each other to find out whether they remember the same or different things from the movie. Replaying parts of the movie reinforces the idea that it can be useful to look at something again to check your observations. With this age group, there is no need to have students take notes on their observations—they can be discussed aloud.

Grades 6–8

Your students may begin to notice patterns in what people observe and overlook, and what people observe and infer. The discussion will help them recognize the relevance of observations versus inferences to scientific investigations. They should be able to be deliberate about making careful observations at Exploratorium exhibits.

Grades 9–12

Distinguishing observations from inferences is a skill that is practiced and refined through adulthood. Your students can compare notes with each other and rewind the tape to determine whether they have made actual observations. High school students should be able to apply the skill of double-checking what really happened to observations they make at the Exploratorium as well as observations they make every day in and out of school.


What You Need

  • Video screen and link to a short video (We suggest the first five minutes of Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave.)
  • Pencils and notebooks (optional)


What to Do

This activity works well with students sitting in a circle with an open space in the middle.

Step 1: Ask students: Is it possible for the entire class to watch the same movie scene, yet perceive, or “see,” different things?

Step 2: Watch a short video scene (five minutes) as a class. Optional: If you are interested in investing more time in this activity, you may choose to have the class create and act out their own scene. The advantage to this option is that the students are participating in the scene. The drawback is that the scene cannot be exactly replayed.

Step 3: Give students two minutes to write down or make mental notes of their observations. They should answer the question, What happened?

Step 4: Allow students to share their observations with the class. Did some people notice the same things? Did some people notice different things? What aspects stood out to most of the students and why? What was it that made some students notice less obvious details? What senses could be used in making these observations?

Step 5: If there are discrepancies among students’ observations, rewind the video and watch it again.

Step 6: Did students come to any conclusions about the plot? Did some students come to different conclusions based on different observations?

Step 7: Discuss whether students’ conclusions are based on observations or inferences. How do observations differ from inferences?


What to Talk About

  • Is it possible for the entire class to watch the same movie scene but see different things?
  • Is it important that people perceived things differently or noticed different details?
  • Can you learn something about yourself from this experience?
  • Can we learn anything from each other through this experience?
  • If this were a scientific investigation, would the results of the class’s observations be reliable? Why or why not?


So What?

Scientists always start by making careful observations. Examining things closely sometimes leads people to wonder about them. This is the beginning of scientific investigations! Scientists may all notice different things, but it is important that what they record is based on real observations, rather than inferences or opinions. On your trip to the Exploratorium, look again before you make an assumption. Ask yourself, “What do I really see happening?”



California Science Standards

The California State Science Standards include observation skills as building blocks to scientific investigation for grades K–12.