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close this bookPrimary School Agriculture: Volume I: Pedagogy (GTZ, 1985, 144 p.)
close this folderPart II: Teaching methods
close this folder4. Outdoor activities
View the document(introduction...)
View the document4.1 Farm work
View the document4.2 Observational activities
View the document4.3 Experimentation

4.2 Observational activities

This section will deal with a number of issues directly relating to observation. We shall start with a discussion about observation as a scientific method and go on to a few ideas about how to use observation consistently in primary school agriculture.

4.2.1 Observation as a Scientific Method

Observation and experimentation are the two main scientific methods for collecting information about things of interest. A respectable science like astronomy is based entirely on observation. The social sciences rely heavily on observation since experimentation with human populations is not allowed.

Observation basically means looking at things. This may be done with the help of very sophisticated equipment or with the unaided eye. The objects under investigation may be destroyed or severely damaged in the course of the observation or they may not be affected at all.

An example of "destructive observation" is the way insects or other small animals, or plants, are sometimes studied. The animals are killed, the plants are removed from the soil. Then they are cut up to see how they are constituted.

Let us first see for what purposes we use observation. Observation is necessary

- if we want to know the structure of an object under study, i.e. if we want to know its elements or parts and how they are linked with each other;

- if we need to know how something works and how it can be influenced;

- if we cannot set up experiments because the objects under study are beyond our reach (e.g. the stars) or because we have no right to do experiments (e.g. with groups of people). Knowledge about the weather can only be gained by observations. Also, experiments with plants with a life longer than two to three years are not feasible in primary school since the pupils who set up the experiment would not see its result;

- if we want to get the results of an experiment. This last point will become clear when we discuss the method of experimentation. Let us say at this point that experimentation means observing objects of interest under different conditions.

Observation is an attempt to increase knowledge. We are always trying to find out more about things in order to improve the way we live. The reason behind all this is the belief that there is some regularity in the way things happen: rain falls only when there are clouds in they sky, fruit and seeds grow only where there were flowers before. A good farmer is somebody who knows that on certain types of soil, certain crops will not grow: if you plant rice on sandy soil you will not have any harvest. He would also know that harvests will become poorer if certain weeds appear on the farm, and he will know that this can be avoided by applying certain types of manure. People without any training in science often turn out to be very shrewd observers. They are able to draw the right conclusions from what they have seen and to apply them to their problems. Scientific observation has the same aim, yet, on the other hand, procedures of observation, recording, and analysing differ markedly.

Observation aims at describing precisely the object(s) under investigation. What does the object "normally" look like and what differences can be seen between objects of the same type? To give an example: What is the normal height of maize plant at tasseling? Do all maize plants on a given plot look alike when they tassel? Do they all have the same height? Observation tries to find chains of cause and effect.

Approaches to Observation

Observational activities can differ widely as to the number of objects observed and the timing of the observations. Concerning the objects under study the following types of observation can be distinguished:

1. The Examination of a Single Object

The object of interest is carefully observed once. The aim usually is to describe its shape, to identify its parts and name them. The objects can be taken out of their natural setting for examination in the classroom. This is the case when pupils examine a plant, a stone, an insect or a small animal which they bring into the classroom. The objects may also remain in their natural setting. This is the case when pupils observe a tree, a house, a monument, i.e. objects too big to be removed and brought to school. This is the type of observation which is usually done with specimens. If no specimens are available, illustrations can be substituted - in books, on wall charts or on the blackboard.

2. The Case History

Here, a single object of interest is being observed over a period of time. The aim is to describe apart from its initial shape the changes it undergoes over the period of observation. Case histories are mostly done on living objects. Most of the time they are done on objects in their natural setting, although a few exceptions are known:

Case histories outside the natural setting

- observation of seed germination in a germination box or jar,
- observation of insect development from eggs through the stages of larva and pupa to full growth,
- observation of a plant in a flower pot, etc. Case histories in their natural setting
- observation of the development of a newly born baby during the first two months of his life in the family of a pupil,
- the farm work of a family during a specified time of the school year,
- observation of the life of a plant on a school farm plot,
- observation of water erosion on a cleared and tilled plot that has no crops growing on it, etc.

3. The Population Survey

The population survey is an observation of many individual objects which is done at one particular point in time without being repeated. "Population" in this context does mean any group of similar things or beings. Surveys are always carried out in the natural settings of the population. Examples for population surveys are

- the observation of the quality of maize cobs at harvesting,
- the development of yam plants 12 weeks after planting,
- the yield of a pineapple farm,
- the farming methods of coffee farmers in the village,
- farm tools used in the community,
- how women in the village select and store seeds and planting material.

The last three topics in the list are population surveys to the extent that all or several people are asked for information, or are observed during the relevant activities.

4. Repeated Observation of a Population

This is a case history for a whole population. Observations on a number of similar objects are repeated over time in order to see changes in a whole population. A typical example is the observation of a whole farm plot throughout the agricultural season, the population being the crop growing on the plot.

As the examples show, the four types of observation all have their place in teaching. Teachers should make a judicious choice among the many possibilities for-obsenation. Observations of single objects are easier to organize and are well suited as an introduction to the skill of observation. Usually they do not yield quantitative data but rather a lot of verbal descriptions, sketches, and drawings. They are well adapted to individual work or work in a team of two pupils. The study of populations nearly always yields quantitative data and requires team work.

Methods of Observation

Observation may be direct, with the observer simply examining the object under study and writing down his findings without any equipment or tools to find out things usually hidden from the eye. This is the simplest method and should be used for initial training - how much do pupils see by just looking very carefully at things or beings they know already.

Usually, observation means using measuring equipment - the metre tape, weighing equipment, containers for the measurement of volume. Much of the observational activity is done with the intention of introducing pupils to the use of measurement. The use of numbers - e.g. counting the leaves of a young plant three weeks after germination is already measuring, looking for precision in terms of numbers, although it can be done without any apparatus.

In addition there is indirect observation. Instead of looking at things oneself one puts questions to knowledgeable people. This is the method most commonly used in surveys involving large numbers of people. Usually, there is a need for questionnaires and interview schedules. Examples are provided in volume II, part I, "Farming Methods".

As far as agriculture is concerned, direct observation is preferable to any other method. There are topics, however, where direct observation is not possible. A survey on land tenure relies almost exclusively on survey work and interviewing. Part III contains information written by Cameroonian teachers on topics related to agriculture where the basic information was obtained by questioning local experts. If you want to collect data on work organization, direct observation of people working on their farms alone or in groups will provide some insight but it will always have to be supplemented by discussions with the people concerned.

4.2.2 Using Observation in School

Like any farmer, the Farm Master and other staff members will occasionally have a look at the farm in order to see that everything is going well. Regular observation of this sort means that action can be taken when necessary - weeding, disease and pest control, harvesting at the right time. If the crop concerned is not properly supervised, the risk of losing part of the harvest goes up.

Observation also has its role in classroom teaching. Since our projects - growing one or several crops - must be planned beforehand in order to succeed, observational activities ought to be included in the planning right from the start. The pages 80 and 81 provide examples:

The first example is a general form for planning. One such form should be filled in for each farm plot once the crop has been decided on. The columns "Stage in Farming" and "Stage in Plant Development" have been filled in and contain the most common stages. For a given fruit the appropriate steps and stages have to be selected.

The second example is a farm which shows what the planning might look like for a maize crop. While the stages in plant development and the relevant farm jobs are known, the timing in the first column can only be tentative since actual plant development will depend on the climatic conditions of a particular season.

Teachers are encouraged to carry out a similar planning exercise for other crops. The necessary information about the farm calendar and plant development are available in part II of this book.

If a whole programme of observations is followed throughout the course of farm work, it would be good to display the results in class. One could use an observation chart. as shown below. It should take the form of a wall chart with information entered as it becomes available through the observational activities. Additional space must be provided for the display of sketches, drawings, and specimens. The same observation chart should be copied in the pupils' exercise books so that everyone has a complete record of all the observations by the end of the year.

· Successful integration of agriculture with a science syllabus needs good planning.
· Observational activities ought to be included in planning right from the start.

Programme of Observation (first example)

Observation Chart

Programme of Observation (second example)