Summer Problem Based Learning

GLBio has been pitching in with regional teachers from around Ohio to help develop Biomimicry-inspired Problem Based Learning curriculum, an instructor’s day is packed, between meeting testing requirements and fulfilling all the daily student/learner educational needs.  Biomimicry can be a method to condense/magnify learning and help to ignite passion in learners to discover.  A workshop offered this summer by GLBio was created to help instructors develop meaningful learner-driven curriculum that could meet all their classroom needs.  In addition to offering ample real information and explanation of the biomimetic method, the workshop content demonstrates how biomimicry is an aid to teach existing subjects with nature as co-teacher, not an additional subject in and of itself.

For instance in my recent lessons shared at the NIHF (National Inventors Hall of Fame) school, I covered a unit based on the Living Machine® system*.  The nature of the lesson is designed to be one of original discovery and self-guided learning, where a teacher could embed any desired learning outcomes:

  • The learning aids arrive with a silver case and prepackaged boxes. They would explain that the supplies arrived as a challenge for the students to try to meet.  The aids would further state that they knew very little about the challenge, except that if the students chose to take it on they were required to follow through.  The aids would make it clear that they are in the dark as much as the students and that any information gathered was going have to be done by the class.
  • The box is filled with unknowns, samples of mud and water, wetland plants with and without labels.
  • The silver case contains limited information supplied by five different companies about individual company needs.
  • The class would determine for themselves the potential for the Living Machine®as one of many possible solutions, individually finding the information themselves through trying to address the common needs of the separate companies.
  • The class would have opportunity to ask further directed questions of the companies and to research the problems until they all had the solutions needed.
  • Individual group presentations, as well as working living machine®models (or other models if the class went another route), would be constructed at the lesson’s end.

*(The Living Machine® is an intensive bioremediation system invented in 1979 that can also produce beneficial byproducts, such as re-use­quality water, ornamental plants and plant products—for building material, energy biomass, animal feed.  Aquatic and wetland plants, bacteria, algae, protozoa, plankton, snails and other organisms are used in the system to provide specific cleansing or trophic functions.)

The unit I offered at NIHF was completely learner-driven and cross-disciplinary.  Mathematics was used to identify company needs from supplied graphs and could be used in further iterations to calculate flow rates, and interpret graphs of water usage, and waste if a class had more time.  Language arts was utilized to make clear presentations, and working prototypes were engineered.  The class could then explore the principles of design used in biomimicry to measure the effectiveness of all of their solutions.  The lesson allowed the students to tap into all their knowledge to complete the challenges.  The Living Machine® was one of the more intensive unit plans; several other lessons conducted in Lorain County and different Ohio school districts by GLBio education fellows and project managers brought biomimicry into the classroom in easy, digestible chunks, each of these offering compelling opportunities for educators to meet their classroom learning outcomes.  Some of these were shared at the summer workshop.  Projects included:

The penguin supercavitation lesson:

  • Where a young class of Kindergarten students explored how penguins can swim faster with the use of air bubbles.
  • The class of young learners tested models in water that helped to illustrate the faster movement of objects through air as opposed to water (to make the connection to the increased speed of the penguin water movement).
  •         Once the idea was understood the learners brainstormed possible ideas for ways that people could develop and use the same idea.
  • The lesson was very kinesthetic with the students pretending to bundle up in warm clothing for their adventure and looking on the globe for the route to be taken.
  • An opportunity for non-standard measurement (a tool for number-sense building) was used as learners tried to imagine how many of them, arms outstretched would make up the length of albatross wings.

The Stay Cool Design Challenge

  • Creature Cards were handed out that showed various plants and animals that have unique ways of keeping cool.
  • Based upon the creature cards charrette teams brainstormed ideas for products that people could make to cool a variety of objects (like houses and cars).
  • At the end of a period teams pitched their ideas for products to one another.

The Classic Package Design Lesson with a Twist

  • This multi-day lesson allows groups to study how organisms in nature protect and “package” themselves.
  • Much like the traditional egg drop challenge with tape and straws and so forth, this lesson more closely examines objects like the egg itself, helicopter maple seeds or honeybee hives and other natural packages.
  • After much work and research the class presents their ideas to the community at large at a public event, some having built actual models to accompany their solutions and discoveries.

Each lesson aided the exploration of existing curriculum (whether math and language arts, wetland science, infrastructure and community planning, non-standard measurement methods, geography, Antarctic inhabitants, scientific experimentation methods, engineering or critical thinking), instead of adding to the already heavy curriculum requirements teachers faced.  Students, teachers, and coaches were thrilled at the level of participation and involvement in all cases.  The summer workshop explored all of these lessons and brought educators together to discover new ideas and approaches to their classrooms.  The summer’s first educator’s professional development session began June 15th and ran through June 19th.  This annual event brought educators in from across Northeast Ohio and will only continue to grow.


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