THE BIG IDEAS BEHIND THE BIOMIMICRY PROJECT
The Biomimicry project is anchored in the Life Sciences strand of the NGSS standards and also incorporates the Engineering and Technology Sciences strand of the NGSS standards. In other words, it’s an Engineering Design Challenge framed through the Driving Question:
How can I develop a tool that helps humans and that is inspired from nature?
A BIT ABOUT BIOMIMICRY
In the field of engineering, industry experts and newbies alike see enormous value in finding inspiration from nature to solve tough engineering problems. This has led to the entire domain of Biomimicry, defined by Janine Benyus - the founder of the Biomimicry Institute - as: "Sustainable Innovation Inspired by Nature."
That means a team of engineers might collaborate with biologists to investigate new ways to synthesize concrete from CO2 in the air - like how sea shells form, except in seawater - or create color from nano-structures that only reflect a certain wavelength of light, instead of using toxic chemical pigments - like the wings of a butterfly that are free of any pigments and produce color by structure-alone.
At the heart of the idea of Biomimicry we can find innovative and sustainable solutions to the challenges facing humanity by finding inspiration in biology and the natural world.
A quick example of a bio-inspired consumer product might be the Baby Bjorn which found its bio-inspiration from the kangaroo pouch.
There are hundreds of examples of engineers, scientists, architects and individuals from a multitude of fields who are using Biomimicry to enhance human life. The challenge in this project is to take observations from reviewing a multitude of case studies from nature a step further into the ideation and prototyping of a bio-inspired solution to a human need.
How does Biomimicry align to NGSS?
KEY CONCEPTS TO BE EXPLORED IN BIOMIMICRY DESIGNS
The key concept to be explored in this project is around structure, functioning and information processing: “Every human-made product is designed by applying some knowledge of the natural world and is built by using materials derived from the natural world.” (NGSS: 1-LS1-1.) During the project, the ongoing review of case studies from nature will reinforce this concept. Also, the structure and/or functioning and/or information processing design features of students’ engineered tools should be bio-inspired. They will be applying their understanding of the key concept to their designed solutions and therefore also demonstrating understanding of the concept in a tangible way.
THE STANDARDS AND THE TANGIBLE OUTCOMES
Why should students’ design tools be inspired by nature? Well, let’s take a look at one of the key 1st Grade NGSS Life Science performance standards:
NGSS: Structure, Function, and Information Processing.
Use materials to design a solution to a human problem
by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts
to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs. (NGSS: 1-LS1-1)
Thus, one of the key end products - a tool that helps humans and that is inspired by nature - will first prompt learning and then show evidence of learning around the targeted Life Science standards as well as evidence of learning around the Engineering Design Process.
The Engineering Design Process will be scaffolded, prompted and assessed through the ongoing use and creation of individual Engineer’s Notebooks.
In addition, students will keep Case Study Journals.
These two tangible outcomes prompt our learners to meet the standards through detailed observations, pattern finding, and research into the growth and development of organisms in their Case Study Journals.
In other words, the act of working on the tangibles during the project will prompt the learning and doing, and also give you evidence of progress, understanding and visible thinking for multiple formative assessments of progress. All three key tangibles will also show summative evidence of learning and performance in alignment with the targeted NGSS standards.
WRAPPING YOUR HEAD AROUND THE PROJECT
As with all projects, one key recommendation is that you “do the project on yourself” before launching into the project with your learners. For this project, this recommendation may be particularly useful because most of us are not very familiar with innovative design solutions based in Biomimicry. Yet, these activities are exactly what the NGSS standards are calling for. So, we recommend that you design at least one Biomimicry innovative solution brief - work through the process of background research, sense-making around the content, the Engineering Design Process and creating a design brief/patent illustration.
Consider reaching out to community members who are also using biomimicry in their field or might be able to support you and your students through the Engineering Design Process. In doing so, you will become more nuanced in the content, process and outcomes. There might also be the possibility to have students work with community members throughout the project to create more meaningful design outcomes!