Arm Yourself With These Cephalopod STEM Activities

Arm Yourself With These Cephalopod STEM Activities

Grade Level



Life Science

Every year in June, Science Friday honors mighty cephalopods by reading, watching, and joining together with our ocean-lovers to learn about these amazing animals. Why are these creatures cause for a cephalo-bration? Well, cephalopods can teach us many things. Some cephalopods, like cuttlefish and octopus, make skin-morphing and camouflaging as easy as giving a thumbs up. Others have evolved a remarkable variety of modes to get from one place to another. Squid bodies are adapted to survive in a wide range of habitats. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Use these resources from Science Friday and various partner organizations to learn about and celebrate the wide world of cephalopods. 

Check out resources for:
Grades K-5
Grades 6-8
Grades 9-12

Grades K-5

Credit: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble/flickr/CC BY 2.0

Cephalopod Camouflage: A Beauty That’s Skin Deep
Science Friday

How does the chromatophore layer of cephalopod skin work? In this resource, you’ll create your own chromatophore layer using drink umbrellas. Afterwards, you’ll try to camouflage into a background using the three cephalopod patterns.



An octopus sculpture. Credit: Julie Leibach

How Does An Octopus Change Its Body to Blend In With Its Environment?
Science Friday

Using a video of an octopus blending into its surroundings, students will learn about four different characteristics to describe camouflage—texture, shape, color, and size—and will observe and explain how an octopus changes these characteristics. Finally, they’ll create their own uniquely shaped, textured, colored, and sized “octopus” using clay.


Nautilus Palau. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Cool Communication Of Cephalopods
University of Arizona

Predator, prey, or mate? These three options can mean the difference between life and death for a cephalopod. As a group, students will simulate the way cephalopods can use color to communicate with each other.

See if you and your classmates can communicate as efficiently as a cephalopod does!


Grades 6-8

A cuttlefish blending in. Credit: Shutterstock

Model The Texture-Changing Structures of Cuttlefish Skin: Papillae
Science Friday 

Cephalopods can change the texture of their skin as simply as we can produce goosebumps on our skin. Papillae on the skin of some cephalopods can create structures on the skin of the organism to help it further blend in to its surroundings. In this resource, you’ll learn how cephalopods accomplish this—and you can even try it yourself using balloons!


Photo by Maia Valenzuela/flickr/CC BY 2.0

Jet-setting Cephalopods
Science Friday

Can you engineer a jet-propelled “cephalopod” that is both fast and stable underwater? In this activity, you’ll use a water balloon to model the jet propulsion of a cephalopod, and then engineer its “mantle” and “siphon” to help it steer straight and travel farther.



Credit: Squids 4 Kids, Gilly Lab, Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University

Squids And Kids: A Humboldt Squid Dissection Guide For Educators
Squids 4 Kids

Learning about cephalopods are great, but getting your hands on the real thing is even better. Apply to receive a Humboldt squid for your own school or educational outreach!

Enjoy dissecting this amazing creature to gain a better understanding of their incredible adaptations.

Grades 9-12

A squid beak. Credit: Ariel Zych

How Big Was This Squid?
Science Friday 

We know giant squid exist, but seeing them in their natural habitat is incredibly difficult due to the harsh conditions at great depths. Thankfully, with the help of the beaks left over from the meals of sperm whales, scientists can use math to calculate the general size and mass of a squid. Use this 3D model to work like a scientist and find the mantle length and mass of this Humboldt squid.


Caribbean Reef Squid Colors. Credit: Betty Wills

Make A Squid Print
Science Friday

Squid are incredibly cool organisms. In this resource you’ll explore the anatomy of a squid using a guide and images of squid bodyparts. Grab a squid and begin to explore their amazing features, make your own squid print, and use math to determine the diameter of a giant squid eye based on the mantle length and eye diameter of your specimen.



A Macbeth color card. Credit: James B. Wood

Introduction To: Light Quantity And Quality
The Cephalopod Page

Colors that we see above sea level start to look a lot different as soon as you go underwater. As light travels through water is absorbed, reflected, and refracted which causes a change in the wavelengths are reflected back and the colors that organisms see. Explore how color changes at different depths and how this can impact the camouflage of cephalopods.

Join Science Friday’s Sea Of Support

With every donation of $8 (for every day of Cephalopod Week), you can sponsor a different illustrated cephalopod. The cephalopod badge along with your first name and city will be a part of our Sea of Supporters!


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Meet the Writer

About Brian Soash

Brian Soash was Science Friday’s educator community leader. He worked to connect educators, schools, and districts with the outstanding educational content being developed by Science Friday.

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