ASU Biomimicry Center creates lessons for children on nature’s innovations

July 20, 2021

Downloadable Science Kits Include A Design Challenge For Middle School Students

When it’s 115 degrees outside, wolves gasp, turtles burrow underground, and elephants flap their ears.

All of these adaptations keep animals cool in desert climates and can inspire lasting innovations for humans. This approach – looking to nature for solutions – is called biomimicry.

Arizona State University’s Biomimicry Center now offers a way for teachers to introduce these concepts to middle school students. The center has created BioConnect educational kits for use in the classroom and has posted all of the kit’s resources online for any educator to use.

BioConnect kits include a collection of natural artifacts such as rattlesnake skin, 3D printed models to demonstrate concepts of biomimicry, and a weeklong program aligned with Arizona standards and science standards. the next generation.

The Biomimicry Center collaborated with the Phoenix Zoo and the nonprofit Biomimicry Institute, and the project was funded by ASU Women and Philanthropy.

The grant was awarded in 2020, but, like many other things, the pandemic forced the original idea to pivot, according to Lily Urmann, program coordinator for the Center for Biomimicry and a graduate of the centre’s master’s program.

“We have partnered up with the Phoenix Zoo because they have an interesting awareness project called ZooMobile that travels around the state and introduces animals to kids,” Urmann said.

“But the scope of the project must have changed completely when they no longer physically went to schools. But we always wanted to introduce kids to biomimicry and nature, whether we were there or not. ”

BioConnect kits include lesson plans, 3D models and artifacts to teach biomimicry to grade 6, 7 and 8 students. Photo by Alfredo Moreno / The College of Global Futures

The center therefore designed kits based on adaptations of desert organisms to send to teachers. About 20 kits will be distributed to school district science coordinators this month, and a few more will be sent to the zoo, center and institute. Most of the kit’s resources, including the Phoenix Zoo program, survey sheets, model specifications, and videos, are online. Teachers can create the models on 3D printers.

The center hired several ASUs graduate studentsAndrew Olson (industrial design), Kaustubh Alhad Joshi (engineering) and Hui Chen (graphic design). to design the 3D models.

“There is a model of hare ears, which has reactive paint, so when you place it under a lamp it changes color to show how hare ears handle heat,” Urmann said.

The kits also include several descriptions of real-life biomimicry examples, including the Velcro, which the inventor was inspired by how the burr seeds attached to his dog’s coat, and a cooling system inspired by the camel fur.

Leslie Hawkins, education supervisor at the Phoenix Zoo, said biomimicry is an abstract concept for children to grasp.

“But the way they introduce these strategies really breaks them down into a more tangible process for the kids,” she said.

Hawkins worked on collecting video footage from the Phoenix Zoo to show students how elephants, camels, Mexican gray wolves, and desert turtles cope with heat and lack of water.

“You wouldn’t think a Desert Turtle could be this enjoyable, but we have one and the footage really captures its curious and inquisitive being,” said Hawkins, a former ASU graduate teacher.

The BioConnect program ends with a design challenge, in which students collaborate on an invention to help humans live more sustainably in the desert.

“It’s more tangible when they can practice it – explore what nature does and how to apply it to their own design,” said Urmann.

Rosanna Ayers is director of youth education for the Biomimicry Institute, a Montana-based nonprofit. She is leading the learning experience based on the institute’s Youth Design Challenge project and hopes the kits will inspire more participation.

“The Youth Design Challenge is a large and rigorous process and we saw that some teachers needed little bites,” Ayers said.

“Students can explore biomimicry and if they wish, they can take on the Youth Design Challenge or retry the kit challenge. One of the beautiful things about biomimicry is that you can come up with a variety of designs from an organism.

BioConnect lesson plans include content from, a digital database of educational resources hosted by the Biomimicry Institute, said Urmann.

“We are introducing biomimicry as an old process and also as a new field of study created in the university space over the past 30 years,” she said.

Top photo of a desert turtle courtesy of the Phoenix Zoo.

Mary beth faller
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