Communicating Like a Scientist

Kelli Quan-Martin - Toby Johnson Middle School

Subject Area - Physical Science
Grade Level - Grade 8

Overview: Communicating like a Scientist will allow students to experience the scientific process of discovering causal mechanisms for everyday natural phenomena as they attempt to determine how a children’s toy works without taking it apart. As the lesson escalates into more challenging components, students, like scientists, will test new ideas, challenge and review each other’s ideas, and collaborate and contribute to an online community. They will present their data and ideas in a number of ways, including posters, gallery walks/talks, blog postings, online videos, and/or podcasts.


  • Students will be able to identify the steps in a scientific investigation, including the problem question, hypothesis, observation, data collection & analysis, and conclusion.
  • Students will be able to make scientific observations using their senses and pattern-finding skills.
  • Students will be able to collect and organize data gathered from their observations.
  • Students will be able to make inferences about the unseen mechanism that makes a black box work (describe what is inside the Crocodile Dentist that makes the mouth close and the teeth change).
  • Students will be able to communicate their observations and inferences through the use of pictures and words, verbally and written.
  • Students will be able to support or counter ideas using supporting evidence.
  • Students will be able to communicate with their peers through online discussion boards and forums, using different modalities including, but not limited to, discussion postings, uploading pictures, adding PowerPoint presentation, scanning drawings, etc.


  • Begin by showing students the YouTube video “ Crocodile’s Toothache (by Shel Silverstein)” to introduce the game Crocodile Dentist.
  • Guide students through a series of hands-on steps (using a PowerPoint) involving using the Crocodile Dentist toy:
    • Students are given time to explore the game without restrictions or goals detailed.
    • Students are then asked to play with the toy again, but this time, look for patterns or ways to predict which tooth will cause the mouth to snap shut. Students may use the whiteboards to record their observations and data.
  • After gathering data, students share their observations and questions with the class.
  • Challenge the class to pursue the question: How does the crocodile work? Based on the observations made, student groups make inferences to describe the inner workings of the toy.
  • For homework, assign students to go online and post their findings and ideas on a discussion board (through School Loop). Encourage them to share their ideas in both written and picture form (by scanning pictures, taking photos, etc).Require students to post at least one critique of another student’s ideas.
  • As the academic term progresses, remind students to go back to the toy to make new observations and inferences and update their discussion posts accordingly.
  • Additionally, select student groups to be filmed, explaining their ideas. These videos may also uploaded to the discussion boards.
  • At the conclusion of the term, students will need to present their final ideas to their class in a form of their choosing. Students may make a PowerPoint presentation, poster, pamphlet, or video.
  • Students will also do a short reading about the relationship between this lesson and the actual process of scientific investigation and scientific models: Reading - Crocodiles & Science.


  • black box (toy or other contraption concealing an unknown mechanism) – Crocodile Dentist Toy
  • white boards & markers
  • Internet access
  • computers/laptops for student use - at school or home
  • video camera and/or point-and-shoot camera

Lesson Resources:

Student Products:



  • Design, develop, publish, and present products (e.g., Web pages, videotapes) using technology resources that demonstrate and communicate curriculum concepts to audiences inside and outside the classroom.
  • Collaborate with peers, experts, and others using telecommunications and collaborative tools to investigate curriculum-related problems, issues, and information, and to develop solutions or products for audiences inside and outside the classroom.
  • Select and use appropriate tools and technology resources to accomplish a variety of tasks and solve problems.

Common Core State Standards:

  • Key Ideas & Details #1-3; Integration of Knowledge & Ideas #7-9

CA Content Standards for Science:

  • 8.9 Scientific Investigation & Experimentation • Note: This lesson will also address 8th grade standards in Writing and Listening & Speaking.