Inquiry Strategies
for the Journey North Teacher

Setting Standards for Gathering Data

In scientific research, scientists set standards (protocols) for how they make observations, measurements, and otherwise collect data so there is uniformity and their investigations are "fair." If they fail to do so, they can't readily recognize patterns, make accurate comparisons or generalizations, or have confidence in their results, and other scientists can't repeat the study.

Here are some questions you might ask as you prepare to gather data:

  • What variables do we need to consider?
  • How can we keep things the same each time we observe or measure?
  • Will we be able to easily compare our data with that of other classrooms?
  • What do we mean when we say _______? (How do we define ____?)

When Standards Aren't Set: Journey North Examples...

  • If a class measures the emergence of some tulips when they see the first hint of a shoot and other tulips when the shoot is 1/2-inch out of the ground, they won't get accurate comparisons. (By defining what they meant by emerge, they would have helped set a standard.)

  • When young scientists post the number of monarchs they notice each day but don't set a standard number of minutes for their observations, the data can't be meaningfully compared with similar information from other locations.

In classroom or schoolyard research, you might decide to establish measurement standards up front or let students discover the need to do so (with your guidance and questions) as they try to make sense of the data they collected.

Gathering Data Links