Let Nature Be Your Guide!

Last summer, as part of my Master’s in Teaching Biology (which was awesome, learn more here.) I took a class on bioinspiration. I had never really heard of bioinspiration and didn’t know what I was getting into. IT WAS SO COOL! In a nut shell, bioinspiration is looking at how an organism or ecosystem performs a function and then using that as inspiration to solve human problems.

Check out some awesome examples here and here and here…. or make your kids find their own!

So fast forward to the end of this school year, I didn’t have enough time left to do the Eco-Friendly Dream Homes that we normally do. But I still wanted my kids to finish the year with something creative and get them building. So I came up with the idea to have my kids design and build bioinspired houses. It turned out to be a great way for the kids to prove that they understand how living things maintain homeostasis in all different ways and combine a lot of the knowledge they had acquired throughout the year. Plus they got to use box cutters and hot glue guns, so they were happy. 😉

Here was our process:

1. Because we are a 1-1 school, the whole class worked together on a power point explaining what bioinspiration is, examples of it, and the benefits of bioinspired designs. I set the kids loose on Google and let them work. Then we went through and discussed it as a class.

2. As a class, we created a list of things a house has to be able to do/have (ie. heat, clean running water, security of some sort) and waste products produced by a house (ie. human waste, banana peels, soapy water, heat).

3. Students worked in pairs to pick a location/ecosystem for their house. Then they had to choose 3 of the needs and 2 of the wastes from the class list to address in their house. They used the Bioinspired House Plan to find an organism or system that addresses each need and waste and explain how they would use that as inspiration in their house. Once they chose all 5 ideas, it had to get my official OK before they could move on.

***Sidenote- This was REALLY hard for some of my “textbook smart” kids. The concept of taking the biological organism and using it as inspiration to create their own thing (AKA- be creative) was tough. I had kids who just wanted to wrap their house in electric eels for protection. I had a LOT of kids who just wanted to use worms to compost their waste. PUSH them to be creative. Stress that none of their ideas actually have to work. They don’t have to build a functional anything… they just have to think outside the box!

4. As a pair, they drew two views of their house plan. It was up to them what the views were, but most went with a bird’s-eye of the inside and a front view. This provided another great chance to work on scale and proportion (NGSS!).

5. Then they had to build it! It didn’t have to actually function, but we had to be able to see the design element. For example, I had a lot of duck feather inspired insulation systems that puffed up when the house was cold. So they had to show the insulation, but it didn’t have to inflate and deflate before our eyes.

6. Houses were graded using this Bioinspired House Rubric. Students presented them in a sort of gallery walk. We all walked from house to house and the group had to explain all 5 of their ideas to us. This was a great chance for them to question each other too.

My students continue to amaze me with their creativity! I hope this project opened their eyes a bit to some new ways of thinking. Here are some of the finished products:

Hummingbird Fan

This house has a ceiling fan (you are looking at the roof opened up) that was inspired by the wings of a hummingbird. It was supposed to beat VERY quickly instead of spin to create air flow efficiently.

 

house ventilation

This house had a ventilation system based on a beehive. So they put flaps in the bottom and top so that heat could escape and cool air would be pulled in.

 

moat house

This was one of my favorite houses. The moat was multi-purpose. It served as a sort of “natural fence” to keep small mammals out of the house. The house also had water lines running through the windows inspired by blood vessels. They would expand and contract to let heat out or keep in it, depending on the temperature inside.

 

osmosis water filter

Another part of the moat house: They put in an osmosis inspired filter so they could clean the water and pump it into the house.

insulation house

One of the duck feather insulation houses. It was supposed to puff up (like a duck…) when it was cold outside and contract to let heat out of the house when it was too hot. They also covered their house in a sticky rope (inspired by the spider web) to keep bugs out.

Please leave me your comments, questions, and suggestions. Thanks for stopping by! =)

 

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