26 March, 2001
Tidbit of History
The U.S. Revenue Cutter SHUBRICK, the first cutter in Alaskan waters, sailed into Alaska in 1865, 2 years before its purchase from Russia. Captain M. Scammon, a former whaler, commanded her. Capt. Scammon had a passion for scientific observation. In the 1850's he discovered the haunts of the Gray Whale in a California bay, subsequently named for him. On his voyage to Russian Alaska on the SHUBRICK and other cutters, he collected data for his book Marine Mammals of the North Western Coast (1874), illustrated with his own drawings. The book remained the standard text for decades.
What is involved in good scientific observation? Science is the process of discovery.
A good scientist knows that use of the senses is instrumental in answering key scientific questions. Curiosity regarding the world encourages eagerness to work with objects and pose key questions with which to investigate. These key questions can best be explored through the manipulation and handling of materials. Once students of all ages explore the materials, these early experiences lend themselves to data collection and organization.
Viewing materials from different perspectives enhances the observational experience. Often children are looking at an object from only one angle, which is straight down. We need to encourage observing from a different point. Perhaps observing from the side or underneath. As we watch children manipulating materials, it is critical to uncover evidence of comprehension by asking leading, open-ended questions. As teachers, we should encourage interaction, sharing, and new discoveries. Observation takes practice. I believe it is more than simply looking at an object. It involves thoughtful looking with a purpose.
Observation can be complicated when a point of reference is unavailable. This was very evident to me when I went up in the helicopter. Mike spotted a beluga and he was trying to help me see it. I was having trouble locating the whales due to the fact that there was no point of reference in the water. Often observation is difficult and requires focusing. For example, I was on the observation deck overlooking the bridge looking for mammals. I was told that the walrus were in the distance on the stern side of the ship. A friend pointed at the walrus but I was having trouble seeing it. It helped to get behind her and follow her finger with my eye. Observation takes time and concentration.
Recording devices have been necessary to extend observations and provide documentation on the trip. Tools such as microscopes hand lens, computers and cameras can all extend the human capability. Cameras, digital and film loading, tape recorders, and video recorders are documenting observations. The National Marine Observation group uses digital video, audio recorder, and computers to document mammal surveys. As Lisa says, "Still nothing beats the good ole paper and pencil. It's good back-up." The mammal surveys require daily transcribing from the documentation taken on the helicopter. A video recorder is secured to the side of the helicopter providing additional footage. All of these tools for observation give a thorough picture of the object. I noticed the importance of using a variety of recording devices when I was in the helicopter. I recorded video and still images throughout the trip. As I reviewed the images, I was glad to have a variety of documentation tools.
Documenting alleviates the chance for information to become muddled. It would be easy for each day to become a blur if it weren't for daily recording. A record of events enables the scientist to discover changes over time. Documentation is necessary for data collection.
I challenge you to select a rock, leaf or a flower and really observe it. If the object were placed with others would you be able to distinguish your own? Have you observed your object or merely looked at it? Note interesting attributes and qualities. Record details to encourage questions and recall of information. Refer back to the Spectacled Eider images on March 23. What details do you observe when you study these images carefully? I would imagine Captain Charles Scammon observed the gray whale from all angles! Try not just looking at something today, but really observing. You may be amazed at the questions that come to your mind and your desire to investigate further!
The morning started with a bang. Holly gently woke me at 3 a.m. to see if I wanted to get up and work on the computer (since decks were still secured and the stations were shut down). (Remember we go to bed after dinner about 8-9 p.m.) I rolled (or fell) out of the bed hitting my head on the mini fluorescent tube light placed directly over my pillow.
(When the light is turned on, I have the feeling of a bat hanging around a streetlight.) The light bulb fell down and hit me on the head. Through the process I just about landed on my roommate in the bunk below who was quietly trying to sleep, and barely missed falling on her computer accessories sitting on the floor (Remember she has to roll out of bed and has become friends with all the dust bunnies). I felt like a bull in a china shop! After this start, Holly said she thought I needed to go back to bed. What do you think? I certainly didn't complain when Holly shoved me back into my 24" clearance bed saying, "Should I wake you at 5 instead?" I provided everyone with a good laugh and I was thankful no one was filming this graceful awakening!
We are continuing to experience very cold wind-chills, -45-50. At this point we are waiting for the winds to slow down. No helicopters are flying and no stations were completed before 5 p.m. It has continued to be a catch-up day for lots of people. The science library has been filled the entire day with people studying, documenting, transcribing, and working on the computers. It's also a very nice, quiet, and warm room! Lee just came downstairs and slithered into the room asking if anyone would care to help with a station. It has reached a balmy -40. We didn't shoot the messenger, agreeing to all work together to quickly complete the station. We might grab an ice cream first to completely chill out prior to work. Do you think we just might need our suntan lotion, or is that windburn lotion?
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