The Octopus Scientists

What You Need


  • Classroom copies of The Octopus Scientists: Exploring the Mind of a Mollusk by Sy Montgomery
The Octopus Scientists


To refine basic to mid-level concepts of scientific research and to promote critical thinking skills using The Octopus Scientists for examples.


This lesson uses a book called The Octopus Scientists: Exploring the Mind of a Mollusk by Sy Montgomery. This book is one of the winners of the 2016 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books.

In The Octopus Scientists, Montgomery transports readers to a remote South Pacific Island where a team of scientists study the behavior of octopuses, tracking the decision-making skills as they avoid predators and choose food and shelter. As part of the Scientists in the Field series, a groundbreaking series that places scientists’ real work at the center of science stories for children, Montgomery’s work showcases the researchers’ work and all aspects of life in the field.

This lesson should promote the development of critical thinking ability using examples from the book, without the use of prior knowledge. The only background knowledge necessary is that of basic scientific research processes such as the hypothesis, independent variable, dependent variable, controls, and control groups. The only contextual information required will be derived from the book or otherwise noted. Students will take evidence from the book and draw logical conclusions to the questions asked or apply examples from the book as evidence in hypothetical research scenarios to understand the differences in internal structure/operation present in the animal world and begin to explore the basics of proximate versus ultimate behavior  through discussion questions, an experiment designing activity, and analysis of two YouTube videos. It is also important to help young students develop the ability to break down complex wording and understand what is being asked.

In order to do this lesson, students should already have knowledge of what is involved in the scientific process, including forming and testing hypotheses. The Science NetLinks lessons, Robert Gardner: Teaching Scientific Inquiry or Epidemiology: What’s My Hypothesis? are good lessons to use to help students review the formation and testing of hypotheses.

Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these Common Core State Standards:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.8 Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.

Planning Ahead

Prior to this lesson, insure that the class is comfortable with basic experimental terms such as hypothesis, independent variable, dependent variable, control group, controls, and procedure writing. It is suggested to have some small treats on hand to pass out to students who contribute to the discussion, regardless of whether or not their answers are correct. This provides a motive to pay attention to the lesson and adds a level of fun to it.


For starters students should use their Octopus Scientists student esheet to go to and watch these videos about an octopus that escaped an Australian aquarium and another octopus escaping a boat by squeezing through a small hole. These will demonstrate the amazing capabilities of octopods, which will be expanded upon after reading The Octopus Scientists.

Once students have watched these two videos, ask them these questions:

  • What special feature did the octopus use to escape the jar?
    (It used the suckers on its tentacles.)
  • Why didn’t the octopus leave the jar once it was open?
    (It likely didn’t leave the jar because it is similar to a den the octopus would have occupied in the wild.)
  • What other way might the octopus have used to escape the jar?
    (It could have drilled a hole through it with its tongue and slid out.)
  • Why do you think Inky left the aquarium?
    (Inky probably exhausted all possible options for a den in his habitat and left to find a new one.)


In this part of the lesson, students should read The Octopus Scientists as a class or as individuals. You also could divide your class into groups and have the groups read the book together. This could be useful especially if you only have a few copies of the book.

As students read the book, they should respond to questions about it on their Octopus Scientists Reading Questions student sheet. This sheet consists of eight questions to ensure students have paid attention to the reading and can hold on to some amount of knowledge to use for later. You should discuss the questions as a class. You can find answers to the questions on the Octobpus Scientists Reading Questions teacher sheet.

After students have read the book, split the class into groups and ask them to answer the questions on the Critical Thinking student sheet. Give the groups time discuss the questions and come up with answers. Once students have had time to go over the questions, you can use the Critical Thinking teacher sheet to help you hold a full class discussion about them.

After answering the discussion questions, groups should complete the experiment design on the Design an Experiment student sheet. Markers and posters may be used. You can use the Design an Experiment teacher sheet for some suggestions on how students could answer.


Students should understand that the practices and thinking abilities they utilized during this lesson are not exclusive to the study of octopods, but rather to science in general. Now we can go back to the original video of an octopus escaping an aquarium. Ask why Inky may have wanted to leave the aquarium (which may have been to find a new den). Discuss this question as a class.

Afterwards, students should take The Octopus Scientists Assessment to individually assess their reading capabilities, understanding of the scientific process, and critical thinking ability.


These Science NetLinks resources can be explored for more information on environmental issues, threatened species, and citizen science:

Students may follow these links to learn more about octopods:

Funder Info
Science NetLinks is proud to have Subaru as a funder of this project.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards