Why Teach Biomimicry?

Biomimicry takes us on a journey to discover the principles which make nature a model for sustainability. It offers an opportunity to explore how these principles can help tackle some of the greatest challenges facing humanity today, such as climate change and increasing levels of waste and pollution. And, it empowers students to apply their new competences to create real solutions that work.

Biomimicry education leverages the wonder of the natural world and all it has to teach us. It is both fascinating and solution-oriented, an extremely potent combination. As Angela Nahikian, Head of Sustainability at Steelcase has put it: ‘Biomimicry offers a fresh lens for all the dreamers and doers remaking the man-made world.’

Three reasons to use biomimicry education:

  • Biomimicry education does not require new content be added to the curricula.
  • A wide variety of academic ideas and subjects can be approached through biomimicry.
  • Academic ideas and subjects are explored in connection with the engaging context of the natural world.

The net result of enriching school subjects using biomimicry educational approaches can be a dramatic increase in students’ appreciation for the world around them, their interest in creating positive change in themselves and society, and in pursuing further education and careers to help them do so.

In the short video below, Sam Stier from the Biomimicry Institute and Center for Learning with Nature explains the unique role biomimicry offers education.

Credit: Biomimicry 3.8

And in this video you can listen to a group of students talk about their own biomimicry design project.

Credit: Seneca Park Zoo

Benefits of biomimicry education

Biomimicry can provide multiple benefits for education. It can serve as a new way for young people to view and value the natural world. Nature is not only something to learn about in biology class, nature is also a source of wisdom we can learn from.

Biomimicry can serve as a compelling way to present STE(A)M subjects to students. Humans have been attempting to use nature’s wisdom for a long time. Today, we continue in this habit and teachers can take advantage of this by engaging their students in biology through active-learning activities. They can also use examples in biomimicry that address science, technology, engineering and mathematics themes all at once.

Furthermore, biomimicry can be used to create an interdisciplinary platform that connects students to one another and the natural world outside of the traditional classroom.

It is important to prepare students to become the innovators, educators, researchers, and leaders of tomorrow, and in order to do this they need (basic) knowledge on all STE(A)M disciplines. The goal of STE(A)M education is to ensure that all students have the possibility to study and be inspired by Science, Technology, Engineering (and Arts) and Mathematics so they will have the possibility to reach their full potential.

Tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges necessitates cross-disciplinary thinking; biomimicry offers this.

  • An art teacher exploring shading has students find something living or once-living around the schoolyard to sketch, focus in on a detail of it, and sketch it at different times of day.
  • A teacher exploring scientific methods has students observe natural phenomena outside the classroom over a period of time, preparing questions about features students notice about nature and what functions these features might serve (e.g. Why do squirrels have big, bushy tails? Why are tree branches often crooked? What purpose do our toes serve?). Students then choose one question about which to design an experiment and test a hypothesis about a feature’s possible functionality.
  • A physics class learning about atomic interactions reads research papers about how geckos can climb smooth surfaces (even upside down!) applying Van der Waals forces.
  • Students exploring climate change solutions in an afterschool chemistry club make carbon-negative cement out of car exhaust fumes, based on the chemical process corals use to build their stony reefs.
  • Students in a Maker Lab create prototypes of car tailpipes that remove outgoing pollutants, whose design is based on the students’ research into how marine sponges filter food out of seawater (due to electrostatic attraction) and other biological strategies for filtering.
  • A teacher exploring material science and structural engineering concepts of stress and strain has students examine a tree in the schoolyard for clues as to how it withstands the passing breeze, despite its massive canopy.
  • A teacher exploring mathematical concepts of volume and mass has students look up from their desks, textbooks, and chalk/white/smart boards, and look out the window or go outside to determine how to weigh a cloud passing over the school.

This optimism about what’s possible through biomimicry education, and what students aspire to be and do with their lives, is one of the most important benefits. Without hopefulness and ambition, what can humankind really achieve? And yet students too frequently feel disempowered in their education, the very antithesis of why we educate our young in the first place.

The short video below shares the thoughts of teachers and biomimicry practitioners.

Credit: The Biomimicry Institute

This article by Gretchen Hooker at the Biomimcry Institute provides practical insight into how biomimicry supports creativity and curiosity in STEM education. It talks about how biomimicry can capture the imagination of students and provide a refreshing entry point into core science and design subjects.