Back to School, Back to Nature
Our world has been thrown into a position where our traditional school environment is fraught with challenges and we are turning to the great outdoors to find solace. From the creation of outdoor classrooms and teachers promoting environmental awareness with their students, to the scientifically proven benefits of spending time in nature, we know that exploring the wonders that surround us will help us through these difficult times.
Our world feels very different right now, but this difference can provide us with a wonderful opportunity: an opportunity to teach ourselves and our students how to adapt to and learn from everything that nature has to offer. In this article, we hope to offer educators and parents an introductory guide on how to bring nature into the classroom, or more appropriately, take the classroom outside.
Reconnecting Students With Nature Through Biomimicry
There is a great deal of benefit in incorporating biomimicry into your K-12 curriculum: exploration, discoveries, STEM opportunities, teamwork, and innovation to name just a few. In order to learn from nature, we must first observe nature. Distance learning has required students to rely more on technology for their coursework. For some, the skill of simply sitting outside in nature might not be as easy as it sounds! This, however, is exactly what the first step of biomimicry learning is about.
There are many places to start. With the preparation of a Biomimicry Nature Journal, students in any grade level can create a notebook which will act as their own, personal “offline” search engine. It is where their discoveries can be written or sketched, and it’s their choice as to how they want to document their experiences.
For the non-traditional educator or parent, you can begin your journey on 30 Days of Reconnection. Here you will get ideas on how to discover, and, in some cases, rediscover nature. All of the activities are suitable for any age, but you may find some more appropriate for the youth you hope to inspire. With your Biomimicry Nature Journal in hand, here are just a few activities for your students and kids to start filling those pages:
- The Five Senses — Settle into a comfortable position, and spend 15–20 minutes just observing the environment around you. Make observation notes and/or sketches. What do you see around you? What sounds do you hear near and far? What do you feel with your touch or what is touching you? What smells are in the air? Is there a particular taste in your mouth? Try to diagram the sounds around you, what you see, and how close or far they feel from you. What would these sounds look like as a shape? Journal your experience.
- 30 Animals That Made Us Smarter — Visit AskNature.org to view the “30 Animals That Made Us Smarter” collection. Pick two organisms and one design idea that was inspired by nature from the collection and explore them deeper. In your journal, write down an interesting adaptation that you learned about the organisms and why those unique adaptations are suited for the organisms’ environments. See if you can sketch the ideas. For the design concept, list one benefit this innovation could provide for the world.
- A New World — During this pandemic, we turn to a new opportunity for design: one in which we put regenerative, resilient principles at the forefront. The world’s largest lesson, and the framework within which we design can be found in the Sustainable Development Goals. When we look at this kind of sustainable framework, we are reminded how we are all interconnected — and how we all have the responsibility to act. The goal here is to create a vision of what a new world could look like with nature at the design table. How might we be inspired to design our world in unison with the environment and its resources?
Age Specific Discoveries
Introducing Biomimicry is beneficial at any age, but, before you begin, you will want to consider the academic and interest levels of your students. For all students, a great place to start is to provide a grade-appropriate definition with examples of biomimicry. Then, prompt students to closely observe the traits and abilities of organisms and think about what we could learn from them.
- K-5 (elementary school) — In this age group, the goal is simply to give students an appreciation of nature through observation and exploration. Take time out of each day to have your students grab their personalized Biomimicry Nature Journal, (and maybe binoculars or a magnifying glass), go outside, use their senses, and document everything in words and/or drawings. When their observation time is over, have your students talk about and share their discoveries, or look at their findings through a microscope. This would also be the time when you would show them actual field guides in order to show them the validity of their findings. In order to bridge their understanding to biomimicry, provide them with examples that they would already know, such as Velcro (hooked barbs on burdock seeds).
- Grades 6–8 (middle school) — Middle school students can take their observations to the next level by actually applying what they’ve observed to specific needs in their city or state. This age group, along with students in high school, can participate in the Youth Design Challenge! With social media becoming very prevalent in this age group, it is more important than ever for middle schoolers to reconnect with nature. Have your students look at how nature functions, what it needs, what it provides, and how they can help mend the discrepancies between nature and humans.
- Grades 9–12 (high school) — In observing nature, this age group can more closely analyze the link between biological function and the application of technology to a problem that they’ve discovered. Reinforce the point that biomimicry is the “emphasis on learning from and emulating the sustainable solutions living systems have for specific functional challenges.” High school students are also encouraged to transform their observations into a true biomimetic solution! Visit the Youth Design Challenge page to learn more about this opportunity to devise a solution from start to finish which will impact climate change. Registration is now open for the new semester.
Activities From Home For Both Children and Parents
There are many resources that have quickly shifted to accommodate virtual discoveries, which allows us to bring the natural world to wherever we are.
- Visit a museum — Google Arts & Culture teamed up with over 500 museums and galleries around the world to bring anyone and everyone virtual tours and online exhibits of some of the most famous museums around the world.
- The Exploratorium — The amazing science museum in San Francisco shares its virtual learning ideas with you! Explore science activities, articles, and videos curated specifically for school closures, all related to COVID-19.
- World Wildlife Fund (WWF) — Explore their wild classroom with free educational resources, including species lessons, toolkits with fun activities and games, and expert webinars to bring conservation and science to life in your home.
- Another wonderful resource is from our Fireside Chat series. You can tune in to watch the recording of our virtual series Transforming Education: Fostering Students’ Reconnection with Nature. Here you can watch four expert speakers discuss the importance of showing our students and children what they can learn outside of the classroom.
Even though our children may not be in a classroom, there is still so much for them to learn! We want to provide you with the resources that will help turn your current challenges into insightful discoveries. We hope that these ideas have inspired you so that you can, in turn, continue to inspire your students and children!