Modelling learning from life

Shubhangi K Bhide

In traditional school curricula, science education is often lackadaisical in accentuating the innate brilliance of the natural world. Education that is delivered within the current subject-based (biology, chemistry, physics, math) organization of knowledge presents students with a rather disjointed understanding of nature. Being a biologist by training I was seeking a biology-based resource that would facilitate understanding beyond conventional textbook content (but not unrelated to it), something that would connect classroom biology teaching with the real world outside. The Biomimicry Education Network (BEN) could be one such resource. BEN is a global community of educators trying to integrate biomimicry in their teaching.

biomimicry About biomimicry
The term ‘biomimicry’ comes from ancient Greek and means ‘to imitate life’. Also known as biomimetics, it refers to the imitation of nature’s structures, processes, and systems with the objective of solving human challenges. The basic idea is that human beings are still a young species on earth. Other life forms, such as plants, animals, and microbes have evolved over a period of approximately 4 billion years to acquire their current well-adapted forms through natural selection. The various features of these living organisms can be the source of inspiration for innovative solutions to the many challenges human beings face, be it efficient transportation, healthcare, energy-sufficiency, sustainable building infrastructure or information technology. For example, mussel secretions have lead to the creation of non-toxic glues for flooring, while humpback whale fins are credited for the innovative designs of energy efficient turbines as well as ceiling fan blades.

Why teach biomimicry
In traditional science curriculum we learn ‘about’ nature. With biomimicry there is an opportunity to learn ‘from’ nature. It offers educators a way to engage students not only with biology but to demonstrate its interrelations with other disciplines. Biomimicry incorporates immense potential to promote inquiry and can serve as a tool to enhance creativity and problem-solving through design and project-based activities. The National Curriculum Framework, 2005, recommends “a softening of subject boundaries so that students can get a taste of integrated knowledge and a joy of understanding.” With biomimicry there are opportunities for this kind of holistic learning.

The author is a visiting post doctoral fellow at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, TIFR, Mumbai. She can be reached at shubhangib@hbcse.tifr.res.in.

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