Learning from Nature: A Course in Biomimicry

By Agnieszka Rawa and Amalia Souza; photo by Clemens Kalischer (c) 2009

By Agnieszka Rawa and Amalia Souza; photo by Clemens Kalischer (c) 2009

An open-source curriculum by Sustainability Leaders Network designed to strengthen and inform the biomimicry movement among educators and learners locally and around the world.

The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone. – Janine Benyus, leading biomimicry scholar

What is biomimicry?
Biomimicry is a growing discipline that studies nature’s systems and then imitates these designs and processes to sustainably solve current challenges. Studying a leaf to invent a better solar cell is an example of biomimicry. Studying the intertwined complexities of a watershed to understand systems thinking is another. While biomimicry may be an emerging discipline in western culture, it is preceded by the practice of biomimicry embedded in many indigenous cultures.

Why teach biomimicry?
Using biomimicry, you can help expose your students to new ways of knowing and loving the natural world of their home. An overarching goal is to contribute to a shift in mindset – from seeing nature as something to exploit for short-term human benefit – to seeing nature as an invaluable teacher and model. This shift can help us understand how to regenerate natural resources, organize our societies, and live lightly on the Earth.

About this curriculum
This course offers an introduction to biomimicry and how to learn from nature. With an emphasis on getting outside and exploring the land around you, the biomimicry curriculum that we have designed, tested, and refined focuses on observing, appreciating and learning from nature and natural systems in your locality. Cognizant of the ways in which consumption and population growth have degraded our environment, we focus on positive solutions learned from nature and ways to take meaningful action.

I know all of the statistics of destruction, but I have chosen to come to this out of love, because I love this place. And I want to stay here. I want to stay home. – Janine Benyus

Course goals
Through this course, teachers and learners alike will:

  1. Become knowledgeable and enthusiastic about biomimicry.
  2. Get outside and strengthen relationships with the local environment.
  3. Learn to better recognize, observe, and think creatively about processes and systems in nature.
  4. Shift to see nature not as something to exploit, but as a teacher and model.
  5. Collaborate with nature to devise and apply practical solutions to current challenges.

Course reading

  • Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine Benyus
  • Dancing with Systems by Donella Meadows
  • Additional short articles, resources, and websites as assigned

Course outline

I. Introduction to Biomimicry and Systems

  • Introduction to One Another and Biomimicry
  • What is Biomimicry?
  • What is a System?
  • A Biomimicry Approach to Change

II. Innovation Inspired By Nature

  • A Focus on Shelters
  • Completing Shelters
  • Example Field Trip to Luna Bleu Farm: A Focus on Food
  • A Focus on Healing Ourselves
  • Example Field Trip to the Living Machine Rest Stop: A Focus on Cleansing and Energy
  • A Focus on Storing Knowledge
  • A Focus on Conducting Business

III. Being a Biomimic: Designing and Acting to Change Systems

  • Creating with Nature and Being a Biomimic

Course materials
The complete curriculum is provided here, including field trip examples and an outline of the general preparation needed to teach the course, in addition to slides and other handouts.

Using our curriculum and providing feedback
Our curriculum is flexible in terms of content and order, encouraging adaptation to local surroundings and realities, and getting students outside as much as possible. With minor adjustments, it can be made appropriate for a learner of nearly any age, including teenagers, university students, and adults. Our pilot course was taught to 9th and 10th grade students at The Sharon Academy in Vermont. This curriculum may only be used for not-for-profit, educational purposes.

When using the course, please credit the Sustainability Leaders Network and let us know of your successes and lessons learned, in addition to where you are teaching and the approximate age and number of your students. Please do this via a comment at the bottom of this page or by writing to us: info [at] sustainabilityleadersnetwork [dot] org. This information is important to us for measuring project impact and making improvements.  Like nature, we are always evolving.

Acknowledgements and credits
A great deal of thanks is due to Janine Benyus, Dayna Baumeister, and the staff at Biomimicry 3.8 who have built a rich foundation from which courses like ours can grow. We are grateful to administrators and students at The Sharon Academy who supported and participated in our pilot teaching of this semester-long course. Their feedback was valuable in refining the curriculum that we share here.

We are also grateful to our donors the New England Environmental Education Association (NEEEA), who awarded us an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant, and the Wellborn Ecology Fund at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation (NHCF). Please note: Although our curriculum was funded in part by the EPA, it may not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency and no official endorsement should be inferred.

Edie Farwell and Dominic Stucker designed the original curriculum, Edie taught the course at The Sharon Academy in autumn 2012, and Dominic Stucker and Alex Bauermeister further developed the course for publication.

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30 Responses to Learning from Nature: A Course in Biomimicry

  1. Irina Pleva says:

    Thank you, Dominic and others, for all the great efforts you combined to generate such an interesting course 🙂 I am very intrigued to learn more about the subject. Where do I download the full curriculum? And is the course for free?

    On a practical note: if one decides to run a course as a pilot study in his/her university, does your programme provide some leadership guidance or advice? Or should one rely only on materials available online?

    I hope your pilot project with Sharon Academy students was a success! Thank you! Your programme is very inspirational!

    • Dominic Stucker says:

      Thanks for your enthusiastic comment, Irina. The full curriculum, plus slide sets for two classes, can be downloaded for free in the “Course Materials” section, above.

      It is great that you want to bring the course to your university. I encourage you to read through the free materials, which provide detailed guidance. If you decide that you want further guidance from us (or that you would like us to come and teach a shortened version of the course in person), then write to me at info [@] sustainabilityleadersnetwork.org. We would have to charge for this kind of additional guidance.

      Our teaching of the course at The Sharon Academy was a big success – thanks for asking!

  2. Tse-Sung Wu says:

    This is great!! I’d love to share this with people in my company who might be interested (we have a 1,500 employee green team!). Would that be okay to do?

    Also, I wonder if it would be helpful for educators and instructors to share best practices and experiences, in a sort of online learning community?

    • Dominic Stucker says:

      Thanks for your inquiry, Tse-Sung. And, yes, you are very welcome to share our Learning from Nature curriculum with your company’s Green Team! As I mentioned to Irina, above, we can provide you with additional guidance and/or teach a module of the course for a fee. If you and colleagues want to teach the course yourself, you are very welcome to do so. The materials provided above offer detailed guidance.

      Your idea of forming an online learning community is spot on. We’ve already included it in “phase 2” project proposals to foundations. For the time being, these comment fields are intended to be a place for educators to share their experiences and best practices, in addition to where they are teaching and with how many students/participants they have engaged in the curriculum.

  3. Nirmala Nair says:

    Well done Edie and Dominic! Much needed approach and resource. Lots of people will use this. I have posted it on my School of Practical Sustainability Facebook page. Thanks!

  4. Your biomimicry curriculum is awesome! I posted it to my Driftless Region Food and Farm Project blog and Facebook page. I hope educators in our region pick it up. I look forward to diving in, myself.

    Note: The DRFF Project is a collection of farmers, supply chain businesses, consumers and organizations working to expand the local food system in the four-state Driftless Region, a 24,000 square mile area located in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.

  5. Dominic Stucker says:

    I just learned that Per Kielland-Lund, Norwegian sustainability professional and practitioner, disseminated our curriculum through his networks. Many thanks, Per!

  6. Dennis Merkel says:

    I am excited to learn about your biomimicry curriculum!

    As the District Recreation Officer for Los Angeles River Ranger District at Angeles National Forest in southern California, I am working to re-open the Chilao Visitor’s Center on Memorial Day Weekend. The Center has been closed for several years after a fire went through our area. It is well known for over 200 bird species, as well as nature trails.

    We plan to create a wall display inside the Center before our Grand Opening using your biomimicry slides from day 1 of the course. We will send you a picture of the display.

    As the Center gets better established, we can put those slides on a tablet with voice-over for visitors to press start and listen to as a presentation. I like it because it doesn’t talk down to anyone; adults not familiar with biomimicry will become enlightened as well as students who come for other nature talks.

    • Dominic Stucker says:

      Thanks for drawing on our curriculum in this way, Dennis! As indicated in our course, please acknowledge partner Biomimicry 3.8 in your display, as our day 1 slides were adapted from a presentation they provided us.

      We very much look forward to receiving your photo and, to the greatest extent possible, data on the number of visitors to your Center.

  7. Thanks for sharing your amazing biomimicry curriculum – wow! What a phenomenal resource! It’s a real inspiration. I love the Systems Thinking Playbook, and it’s great to see some of that material in this context.

    • Dominic Stucker says:

      Very glad you like the course, Bidisha. Feel free to use and/or share it among your Dalai Lama Fellows network!

  8. I am very happy to come across your website and Facebook page. This is what I was searching for. I am looking forward to benefiting from your programmes and trainings. I am so happy. My country Sierra Leone is far from having this for its citizens. I really need this for myself, my country and the world at large. Where can I get the materials for the biomimicry course?

    • Dominic Stucker says:

      Thank you for your interest in Sustainability Leaders Network and our biomimicry curriculum, Patrick. All materials and resources are available for free download in the “Course materials” section, above.

  9. Dominic, this biomimicry curriculum was very helpful. It inspired an activity we organized recently here in Colombia in which kids interviewed community members, asking them with which element of the local mangrove ecosystem they identify and why. Some of the phrases were painted on walls in the village.

  10. Dominic Stucker says:

    Biomimicry 3.8 has created a new introduction to biomimicry slide set and present’s notes for educators. These are included above in the “Course materials” section as an alternative for more advanced learners.

  11. Congrats on your biomimicry curriculum. I am impressed by the care and thoroughness of the course and will be including it in a “digital toolkit” of resources and links that Biomimicry 3.8 Institute is assembling for K-12 educators this fall. Thanks for spreading biomimicry!

    • Dominic Stucker says:

      Many thanks, Gretchen! Our curriculum would not have been possible without all the good work you and others at Biomimicry 3.8 have pioneered.

      The digital toolkit that Gretchen references, along with a wealth of other curricular resources, will be available through the Biomimicry Education Network (BEN).

  12. Thank you for sharing your biomimicry curriculum!

    I wonder if I can translate the curriculum into Swedish? I offer both teacher training programs and workshops for university students at Universeum in Gothenburg, Sweden, and it would be wonderful to use parts of it in our biomimetic education.

    I am also happy to finally meet Janine Benyus! Tomorrow she is leading our science center seminar and is going to do a talk about biomimicry. On Thursday she is receiving the Gothenburg Sustainability Prize 2013.

    • Dominic Stucker says:

      It is very kind of you to offer to translate our biomimicry curriculum into Swedish, Alexina – please do! And please send us your final version so that we can post it here for other Swedish-speaking educators and learners.

      Enjoy your time hosting Janine at Universeum. Gothenburg has made a great choice in awarding her this year’s Sustainability Prize!

  13. Dominic Stucker says:

    SLN’s Learning from Nature: A Course in Biomimicry has been featured in a fantastic new resource for K-12 educators developed and compiled by the Biomimicry Institute.

    The free digital flipbook, called Biomimicry in Youth Education, is filled with more than 80 nature-inspired lesson plans, activities, and videos geared to K-12 educators. Check it out here: http://ben.biomimicry.net/curricula-and-resources/youth-curricula/resource-toolkit-for-k-12-educators/

  14. Michelle Vadeboncoeur says:

    My son will be a high school junior this year 2014/ 15. He would like to do an independent study in Biomimicry starting in the fall. Would he be able to do it on his own or will he need to work with an instructor and if so is there any one available to guide him through it? As far as I know, there are not any teachers in his high school familiar with Biomimicry in a tangible sense. Do you have any ideas or suggestions or a set curriculum for independent study?

    • Ed Jones says:

      I run a resource for independent or group study. In Ohio, any student can, by law, earn full credit for learning most anything, in any way. We’re trying to assemble some really solid learning templates based largely around a semester’s worth of learning.

      I’d be really interested in anyone, especially Michelle’s son, who figures out ways to do this.

      Perhaps they could be the pathfinder for many more students working independently or in small groups!!

  15. Edie Farwell says:

    Hi Michelle, an independent study in Biomimicry would be wonderful and I expect very enriching for your son. He could certainly do it on his own, though I would imagine having an instructor to supplement would help even more. Happy to talk further about this.

  16. Rachel Dsouza says:

    Will there be a course for the year 2016 too?

    • Dominic Stucker says:

      Hi Rachel, thank you for your inquiry. SLN’s Learning from Nature: A Course in Biomimicry is open source. All materials are available for free download, above. In this way, you can take the course on your own or together with a small group where you live. Enjoy!

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