Spot the difference

We use our eyes all the time to try to figure out the world.

You might look out the window to see if it is sunny or rainy so you know what shoes to wear, or whether to grab a jacket. We look for traffic signals to know when is the best time to cross a busy street, and of course, look again in each direction before stepping off the curb.

Scientists and other professionals in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields use their eyes and the observations that come from using their eyes, to solve problems. They take notes and put their words and the details down into notebooks, and onto the computer, to help them with their projects.

For example, a scientist studying water pollution might go to an area known to be polluted to see what is happening there. Is someone littering nearby? Is runoff water from a parking lot or business area trickling into the water and adding unclean elements and materials to the water?

A Spot-the-difference activity is a puzzle that can help you become an experienced observer just like these STEM professionals. In this kind of puzzle, you are given two photographs or illustrations.

At first glance, they might appear very similar, with the drawing and outline looking identical. With closer inspection, you will see that a few details have been changed, eliminated, or added from one image to the other.

These kinds of puzzles are popular for kids because it helps to train the brain to look closely at things. Exercising our brains like this helps us to put critical thinking skills in place and keeps us from jumping to conclusions. We might think something is a certain way but we should probably check again, just to be sure.

One real-life way to “spot the difference” is if you know brothers or sisters who are twins, or if you can watch a litter of puppies that all look nearly the same. From far away they might appear exactly alike — with similar hair or fur color, or the same eye color. But up close one might be slightly larger than the other because of how much they are eating or growing. Twins might also wear different clothes so you can “spot the difference” when you get to know one of the kids who might like to wear a favorite color.

Now it’s your turn! Download our Spot the Difference pack to teach children critical thinking and how to become experienced observers.

Remember it might take a few times looking from one to the other before you find something in one image that isn’t in the other.