Lesson Plans > Module 1 > Lesson 2:

Scientific Knowledge Using the Inquiry Activity “Fossil Footprints”

Prep time: 5 minutes     Class time: 1 class period


In this lesson, students will learn to interpret and observe data presented to them. Using their observations, students will make predictions as to a possible explanation for the footprints. This lesson is designed to emphasize the importance of using data to support an explanation.

Learning Goals

The student will be able to:

  1. Understand that science is EMPIRICAL—in other words, scientific knowledge is based on and/or derived from observations of the natural world.
  2. Review: Understand that an OBSERVATION is recognizing and noting a fact to gather information about the world using our five senses, and an INFERENCE is a possible explanation about an observation.
  3. Know that Scientific explanations must be supported by evidence.


Misconceptions to tackle

  1. Explanations are direct results of investigations or experiments.



This activity provides the opportunity for students to practice supporting their explanations with evidence. It will encourage the students to think critically about the inferences they make and the logical relationship between the observations and the inference that are supported by them.

By using this activity, students will begin to understand that scientists do not just “figure out” explanations, no matter how simple they seem. For science to be accepted by the community, it must be supported by evidence gathered through investigations and experimentation.


Warm Up

(May be omitted, but the activity is short)

  1. Discuss with students that science is EMPIRICAL – meaning scientific knowledge is based on and/or derived from observations of the natural world.
  2. Have the students look at an object in the room.
  3. By using their eyes only, have them write a description of the physical characteristics using only observations. Not inferences.
  4. Have the students share some of their observations and see if another classmate can guess what object they are talking about.
  5. Discuss the relationship between observation and inferences.


  • Position the tracks sheet on the overhead projector; cover up everything except Position 1 with a cover sheet.

  • Explain to the students that these footprints are common in this area. Scientists are trying to reconstruct what happened using only these tracks. As more evidence becomes available the scientists will modify their hypotheses.
  • Keep students away from inferences. Guiding questions:
    • Can you tell the size of the organism?
    • Were these tracks made at the same time?
    • How many organisms were involved?
    • What evidence did you use to make your hypothesis?
  • Reveal the second part of the tracks.

  • Give students a few moments to study the new information.
    • What new information do we have?
    • How has this changed your previous hypothesis?
  • Reveal the whole picture. Have students revise their hypotheses one more time. When students are sharing their answers, make sure their answers are supported by ALL of the evidence.

  • Focus discussion
    • Why is evidence important to scientists?
    • What are other types of evidence?
    • Observations are a type of evidence, but inferences are not. Inferences are logical explanations about observations and evidence.


Use the images of Sauropod footprints and the worksheet to have students individually make observations, inferences, and provide explanations based on evidence.  The idea of the activity is to have students look at images of the imprints (do not say ‘footprints’ since that will give an idea to the students on where they came from) and assess their knowledge on what they learned from the lesson.  Place the Sauropod image on a document camera and have students individually fill out their worksheet.  Do not tell them which animal the imprints are from (all of the imprints are from the same location), since we want the students to be able to develop as many inferences as possible.  Have them put their names and the date on it and collect them after they are done.  Share some of the student’s responses to the class and have a discussion over them, while including the questions in the exit ticket listed below.

Exit Ticket

  • Is there a difference between data and evidence? If so, what is the difference?
  • Why is evidence important to scientists?
  • What are other types of evidence?
  • True or False: Observations and inferences are types of evidence.

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