Biomimicry: The “Natural” Intersection of Biology and Engineering

Contributor
Celeste Nicholas and Jeffrey Peterson
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Lesson/Lesson Plan
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

The article describes an engineering project that is to be done as the culminating event in a unit on biodiversity and adaptation.  Students apply what they have learned about these disciplinary core ideas to design products for humans that are inspired by nature’s adaptations.  Video clips about biomimicry are shown to students, they do a webquest on the topic  and then are asked to design their own 2 dimensional or 3 dimensional “biomimetic” products.  A complete project schedule is included as well as ideas for how to define a problem and look to nature to solve it and also how to research solutions to the problem.  Suggestions for credible sources, a rubric, and examples of student work are included in the article.

Intended Audience

Educator
Educational Level
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Available for purchase - The right to view, keep, and/or download material upon payment of a one-time fee.

Performance Expectations

MS-ETS1-1 Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students design the solution to a problem using ideas from nature, but there is not an explicit tie to the scientific principles of natural selection and adaptation. As an addition to the activity students could be expected to explain how their chosen adaptation gives the organism a competitive advantage in survival. They could then extend that to explain how their design would provide an advantage in solving the problem. To fully address the text of the Performance Expectation teachers would need to help students determine criteria and constraints for their design. They could ask these questions of students to help them: How do we know that we have an effective design? What limitations do we have on our ideas? Criteria could include: It is based on how organisms solve a problem. It connects to an important or interesting, human problem. If testing is determined to be an important part of the lesson, then the design should be “testable”. It needs to be safe. Constraints could include: Cost of the materials. Only being able to use readily available classroom or home materials.

MS-LS4-6 Use mathematical representations to support explanations of how natural selection may lead to increases and decreases of specific traits in populations over time.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using mathematical models, probability statements, and proportional reasoning to support explanations of trends in changes to populations over time.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include Hardy Weinberg calculations.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This project comes at the end of a unit on Biological Evolution and Adaptations, but does not specifically address how to teach natural selection and adaptations. The activity extends what students know about adaptations and incorporates engineering design in a creative way that has been involved in many recent technological advances in engineering. Students identify a problem and then research adaptations that could help them design a device or process that would solve the problem. In doing so, they are asked to come to a fuller understanding of adaptations in our world and of the engineering design process. The article includes very detailed instructions for completing the project as well as many resources that can be used. To make the activity more related to the biological concept of natural selection and adaptation students could use evidence to explain how their chosen adaptation gives the organism a competitive advantage in survival. They could then extend that to explain how their design would provide an advantage in solving the problem.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
During this activity students locate and attribute at least two credible sources about biomimicry and then communicate this information through writing and drawing of their engineering solution.Options exist for students to communicate through oral presentations. To make this practice more central to the lesson, students could not only present their design to their peers, but use the feedback to improve the design. This would better incorporate the iterative nature of engineering into the project as well as the evaluating part of the practice.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The task for students is to ask a question that can be solved by engineering and then look at adaptations in nature to help them solve the problem. Examples in the article include a group that looked at frog’s skin and tried to develop a waterproof lotion, another group that designed a hydraulic pipe repair system for planes that is similar to human blood clotting and shoes that mimic mountain goat hooves.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students use their understanding of adaptations for previous experiences in the unit to help them design a device or process to solve a human problem. The activity does not specifically address how to teach about adaptations, but how to teach engineering once students understand how natural selection leads to adaptations within a population of a species. To more fully address the Disciplinary Core Idea, students need to explain more about how the adaptation helps the organism survive and reproduce and then relate that to their design. They would need to discuss how the adaptation led to their design and how the design might help people solve a problem.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Structure and function relationships are very explicit for students in this activity since they analyze these relationships in nature and then how they can be used in similar human design solutions. An addition to the requirements for the project and to include in the rubric might be for students to describe the structure and function of the adaptation and their design on the diagram or drawing that is required.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: All three dimensions of NGSS are included in this activity since it combines adaptations with engineering to have students define a problem in the world, and then obtain, evaluate and communicate information to help them solve the problem by designing a solution using the crosscutting concept of structure and function. The problem is related to their own experiences.

  • Instructional Supports: There are excellent supports and scaffolds outlined in this activity. A project schedule is included as well as many links to help students understand biomimicry and relate it to adaptations in the natural world before they start the design process. Suggestions for students that have difficulty defining a problem or locating an organism that could solve their problem were also mentioned in the article as well as how to teach students about credible resources. The authors discuss how differentiation can happen in the classroom and describe examples of how this worked when they taught the lesson in their class. Extensions for high interest students such as building a testable prototype are explained.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Many ideas for monitoring student progress are included in the article such as a timeline and a rubric for the project. The rubric addresses the mechanics of the project such as whether there is a summary of the problem, research cited is included, whether the design was inspired by nature and if they have their diagram labeled. It does not, however, address disciplinary core ideas such as adaptations or any practices or crosscutting concepts. Aspects of engineering should also be included such as whether students have meaningfully defined the problem by addressing the criteria and constraints that have been identified by students. Formative assessments such as a Google Form to submit their preliminary ideas and progress are mentioned.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: There are no interactive online tools that are specifically associated with the project. There are, however, references to video clips and websites that are used as resources as well as a webquest for students. These are well done. Students use classroom computers to create diagrams of their design and submitted their designs as a presentation to share with the class.