GUEST BLOGGER KRISTEN NORDSTROM
Biomimicry is all around us
How did a bird help transform one of the fastest trains on the planet? How did a tiny beetle teach humans to collect water in the desert? Through biomimicry, birds, beetles, whales and more have inspired inventors from around the globe.
I am a teacher and a founding member of a Title One STEAM magnet school. I’d like to share a biomimicry lesson I performed with my class.
Read about biomimicry
Start with a book to inspire your student inventions, Makerspace projects, or as part of your NGSS science curriculum. In Mimic Makers, a STEM picture book, meet ten inventors who are learning from the living world. They wonder, ask questions, and gather great ideas from nature. Next, they copy these ideas to invent amazing new technology that help people and our planet.
What could you invent based on flying maple seeds?
Generate a class list of ideas. Here is the list my class created:
- Supply carriers
- Twirly parachutes
- Amusement park ride
- Twirling umbrella
My class chose to make flying supply carriers. I adapted this project with permission from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration project. Use page 6 for the whirlybird template (click here: Aeronautics Educator Guide pdf (nasa.gov)).
Next, watch the following YouTube to see why and how supplies are transported to people in need.
Biomimicry design and engineering
You will need:
- whirlybird template
- scissors & hole puncher
- 11” yarn or string piece
- salsa/catsup containers (take-out)
- 2 small cotton balls (cargo)
- Cut one ROTOR MOTOR Template out.
- Cut on the bold lines.
- Fold on the dotted lines.
- Double knot the yarn or string on each end.
- Hole punch two holes on either side of a small condiment container or small paper cup.
- String the yarn through the holes to create a bucket with handle.
- Place the yarn handle at the base and fold up on the dotted line.
- Secure with a paperclip.
- Fill the container with cotton balls to simulate cargo.
- Create three landing spots with three different colors of construction paper. Create a class data collection chart to record the frequency and position of the landing spots.
- With close adult supervision, set-up a launch area with a high ladder. Drop your whirlybird carrier from the highest point possible.
- What spot does your whirlybird land on when you drop it? What happens when you push it?
- Tape a light ribbon to the bottom of the whirlybird. Once launched, can you guide your carrier by pulling it to the farthest landing spot?
- Experiment with different types of paper (both heavier and lighter). What type of paper flies best and accurately transports the cargo to the desired landing spot?
- With close adult supervision, set-up a fan. Direct the wind current toward the launching pad.
- Once your class launch is complete, discuss the data that was collected. What launch/landing patterns do you observe? Which materials worked best or was the least efficient? What results did you obtain when you dropped, pushed, or pulled your whirlybird carrier? What redesign ideas could you incorporate?
- Redesign your carriers. See if you can improve the accuracy of your landings. Create a target landing spot. Record the landing results on your class data collection chart.
- Compare the results from your last launch to this launch. What conclusions can you make based on the data collected?
Connection to literacy
Reverse engineer an invention. Research a plant or animal you’re curious about. Do you think spinner dolphins or pitcher plants are amazing? Select some books and websites to research your chosen animal or plant. Write down a physical description. Record where your plant or animal lives (habitat), and what it eats or does to survive. Observe any unique structures in photos or in real life. What function do these structures have? What invention can you imagine and create based on these structures? Sketch your invention in your science journal.
Next, create a poster to sell your biomimicry invention. Draw a large color picture of your creation. Write a paragraph to explain your invention. Describe which animal or plant your invention is based on and why. Include how your invention is useful to humans and beneficial to the planet. Use persuasive language to convince a buyer to purchase your creation.
Kristen Nordstrom has been teaching for 22 years and is a full-time teacher and founding member of a Title One STEAM magnet school in California. She has a Masters Degree in Education from Pepperdine University and has trained as a science educator with the Lawrence Hall of Science, High Tech. High, and the San Francisco Exploratorium. She is currently completing her National STEM Education Certification with Rice University.
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