Education Summit Breakout Sessions

Sessions are organized by type and listed in alphabetical order by presenter’s last name. Please refer to the Breakout Session Schedule for details on placement in the program. To view presenter bios, click on the presenter’s name.

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Complete Event Program
Breakout Session Schedule



Can Biomimicry Enhance Engineering Education?

Moderated by Marjan Eggermont – Associate Dean, Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary
Biomimicry in engineering education is an area that needs to grow, expand and become a mainstay or a design spine in the discipline. In this panel we will discuss the challenges of introducing biomimetic content into the engineering curriculum and will invite audience ideas and participation. Topics to be discussed will be: Lessons learned, course design and core content integration, capstone projects and sponsors, STEM education as driver for engineering curriculum change, how to move biomimicry in engineering from fad to fact and others generated by the audience.

Panelists to date:
Marjan Eggermont – Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary
Jacquelyn Nagel – Assistant Professor, Department of Engineering, College of Integrated Science and Engineering, James Madison University
Curt McNamara – Adjunct Faculty, Sustainable Design Online, MCAD

Primary Audience: University
Tags: Tools; Lessons Learned; STEM / STEAM-specific focus; Sustainability; Design disciplines; Engineering; Natural/Biological Sciences; Program models; Research

Teaching Strategies for Bio-inspired Design: A Structured Discussion

Moderated by Marc Weissburg -  Center for Biologically Inspired Design at Georgia Tech

Biologically-inspired design (BID) is challenging because it requires breadth and depth in biology as well as engineering, design and/or architecture. A successful biologically inspired designer must be able to incorporate deep biological principles into the design of a human process or device, where the initial correspondence between the biological solution and the human problem may not be obvious, or difficult to identify. Teaching biologically-inspired design is therefore difficult, and this difficulty is enhanced because biologists, designer, engineers etc. all have different educational goals and traditions.  While the inventory of skills required to generate successful biologically inspired designs is vast, we have identified a number of fundamental challenges to teaching the necessary skills during the past 8 years of teaching this area. These challenges seem universal, and embedded in the cognitive and procedural necessities for engaging in BID. The goal of this panel is to discuss how these challenges are met in a variety of educational contexts, and to take the first steps towards developing  best practices that can be employed when teaching BID to potential practioners with diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and goals. Audience participated will be encouraged in identifying what works, and what doesn’t.

Curt McNamara - Adjunct Faculty, Sustainable Design Online, MCAD
Clint Penick- Ph.D – Postdoctoral researcher, North Carolina State University

Primary Audience: University
Tags: Tools; Lessons Learned; STEM / STEAM-specific focus; Sustainability; Design disciplines; Engineering; Natural/Biological Sciences; Program models; Research

Integrating Life Science Knowledge Into Design Work

Moderated by Ashok Goel – Professor of Computer Science and Cognitive Science in the School of Interactive Computing, and Co-Director of the Center for Biologically Inspired Design at Georgia Institute of Technology
A discussion to foster cross-disciplinary design in current structural constraints of university education: Sustainable design requires interdisciplinary working–especially in education–to accustom future professionals to collaboration. Biologists at the Design Table are increasingly present, and is providing design ideas. However, designing in teams with entomologists, geologists, zoologists, climatologists, botanists, traffic engineers, energy researchers, economists, material scientists, etc. would be ideal. Universities are typically subdivided into schools, departments, disciplines etc. It requires effort beyond usual working scope to organize suitable guest experts for a design class. To join students from one or more different departments, or to offer a balanced mix of professions, backgrounds and expertise for even just a workshop, is even more difficult. What can educators do to foster meaningful knowledge sharing/exchange between designers and other experts/professions/disciplines?

Marie Dariel – Co-Founder and Director of IDEA Design Lab
Heidi Fischer – Manager of InnovationSpace, Arizona State University
Delfín Montañana – Adjunct Faculty, Universidad Iberoamericana
Clint Penick, Ph.D – Postdoctoral researcher, North Carolina State University

Primary Audience: University
Tags: Tools; Sustainability; Program models

Biomimicry for Grown-ups: In the Field and Workplace

Moderated by Biomimicry 3.8 Institute
Hear from three educators working with adult audiences in non-traditional settings, such as the workplace and the backcountry. Each participant will present briefly on their program, followed by a moderated discussion with questions from the audience.

Malena Marvin – Sustainable Designer/Outdoor Educator, Nature of Design, Yestermorrow Design/Build School
Marie Zanowick – US Environmental Protection Agency, Certified Biommicry Professional
Emily Sadigh – Sustainability Project Manager/Fellow, Alameda County Sustainability/TogetherGreen, Certified Biomimicry Specialist

Primary Audience: Informal
Tags: Sustainability, Program models, Tools, Business/Entrepreneurship, Field experience



Hosting a Biomimicry Challenge

Don Carr, Professor – Senior COLAB Fellow, Syracuse University

Now in its second year, the Biomimicry Challenge will again be held at the Syracuse Center of Excellence. As the principal coordinator of this event, I’ll present my strategy for hosting this three day conference. Biomimicry is the ultimate ‘connector’ for a wide-range of disciplines. Our second annual event will be held on March 22-24 and we’ve made several structural changes to this year. That said, our first event was a resounding success and the level of interest and energy on the SU campus is building as the weekend approaches. Beyond the hosting of this annual event, we have long term goals to establish central New York as a regional hub for biomimicry.

Primary Audience: University
Tags: Lessons Learned; Design disciplines; Program models

Biomimicry LivingLabs: Teaching and learning by doing sustainable projects

Anamarija Frankic – Professor & Director of Green Harbors Project, UMass Boston

Building and using academic facilities and the ecosystems surrounding them as “livinglabs” for sustainable solutions is essential for innovative education, specifically advancing the STEAM. The biggest impediment to living sustainably within natural systems is NOT a lack of technical knowledge but rather the need for all stakeholders to understand the systems level intricacies that true resiliency require. Biomimicry LivingLabs (e.g. Savin Hill Cove) are in situ places where participants are emerged within environmental settings learning how to re-engage with nature and the life’s principles, practicing them through a unique capacity to expedite the development and implementation of holistic solutions based on existing knowledge as well as acquiring the new ones. The Biomimicry LivingLabs foster applied science and provide practical education through teaching, learning and doing sustainable projects by emulating nature’s wisdom here and now.

Primary Audience: University
Tags: STEM / STEAM-specific focus; Field experiences; Research

Biomimicry and Engineering With Elementary School Students

Melissa Higgins – Director of Curriculum Development, Museum of Science, Boston

Can elementary school students really engage in bioengineering and biomimicry? In a word: Yes! In this session we will visit an elementary school classroom participating in a bioengineering unit called Just Passing Through: Designing Model Membranes. Using video excerpts, we’ll sit in on lessons as students learn about biomimicry and biological membranes. We’ll then see what happens when students use what they’ve learned, along with guidance from the engineering design process, to design a model membrane technology. The Just Passing Through unit was created by the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) program at the Museum of Science, Boston. EiE has the goal of fostering engineering and technological literacy among ALL elementary school aged children. Through curricular units and hands-on design challenges, EiE introduces children to key engineering principles.

Primary Audience: Youth
Tags: STEM / STEAM-specific focus; Engineering; Field experiences

Designing a Place-Based Evolutionary Learning System for K-12 Education

Brett Joseph – Cleveland Educators for Sustainability

Converging theoretical and empirical research reveals an empirical basis for linking mindfulness training, systems thinking, ecological literacy and other integrative learning practices with habits of the resilient mind, a practical concept developed by Andrew Zolli (2012) that aligns well with investigations of the role of human consciousness in guiding the evolution of complex socio-ecological systems. This paper reviews the interdisciplinary literature on factors contributing to individual and social resiliency through a biomimetic lens, and presents a generic integrative framework for modeling place-based evolutionary learning systems, as a strategy for improving educational outcomes and community health, within the context of K-12 education. The paper employs system modeling tools to elucidate archetypal patterns and causal structures that are suggestive of dynamic, evolutionary processes that may be guided by conscious human design.

Primary Audience: Youth
Tags: Design disciplines; Program models; Research

Biomimicry, Biophilia and Resilience as a Partnership: Promoting design values, issues and ethics.

Jackie Malcolm – Lecturer, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, University of Dundee

Exploring contemporary design values, issues and ethics was the purpose of a new module delivered to design students at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, Dundee, Scotland. Using Biomimicry as a key driver for the module was crucial in establishing an understanding of the impact of design that has embraced natural systems thinking to explore conceptual opportunities. What made this project unique was the partnership of two key concepts, Biomimicry and Biophilia, to deepen the students’ relationship with nature and its potential to inspire design. Using this partnership to align the concepts with Resilience gave the module a unique perspective. This short presentation and paper is a reflection of these three concepts, as delivered through a series of workshops, and we will demonstrate the benefits of using this strategic relationship to enhance the design process.

Primary Audience: University
Tags: Lessons Learned; Sustainability; Design disciplines


The RISD Nature Lab: A model for integrating art and science

Neal Overstrom -  Rhode Island School of Design, Nature Lab Director

The Nature Lab at Rhode Island School of Design is a unique resource for an art and design school. For more than 75 years its teaching collection of natural history specimens, housed in a style reminiscent of a Victorian “cabinet of curiosities,” has been used as inspiration in myriad studio projects. Today the Nature Lab is playing an emerging role as a forum for broader conversations about human inquiry and innovation, the biological influences on art and design, and their relevance in addressing the environmental, economic, and social problems we face today. This presentation will review recent initiatives at the Nature Lab and consider the potential for natural science collections to serve as a catalyst for curriculum integration around art, design and science.

Primary Audience: University
Tags: STEM / STEAM-specific focus; Design disciplines; Natural/Biological Sciences


Integrating Biomimicry and Empathy Education

Rachel Van Boven – Educator, Living Wisdom School

There is a growing call for character education in schools as a way to combat bullying and school violence. I propose that we use Biomimicry for moral and empathy education in addition to STEM education. Rather than looking at how we use nature, the focus of this curriculum is on what we can learn from nature. In this paper, I present the following: 1) the morals and values that are generally agreed upon across cultures, gathered from neuroscience research and ethics educators. 2) How to develop this curriculum, including the use of indigenous folktales and stories about specific plants, animals, and landforms. 3) Potential lessons that integrate STEM and moral lessons, e.g., the study of lichen with a focus on symbiotic relationships as a way to build empathy and compassion. 4) Examples from the curriculum that I have developed with my own students, including student work. I hope to inspire educators to integrate moral education into their nature-based, Biomimicry curriculum.

Primary Audience: Youth
Tags: Lessons Learned; Field experiences; Program models



Biomimicry Beyond Organisms: Acting + Informing at a Systems-Level

Margo Farnsworth – Adjunct Faculty, Lipscomb University & Richard James MacCowan – PhD Candidate, Leeds Metropolitan University

Organisms exist in an amazing blend of biotic and abiotic elements guided by the laws of Earth’s operating systems. Solving problems by incorporating elemental organisms with their systems as part of the approach while cross-checking against Life’s Principles can lead to effective solutions and use far fewer natural resources. In fact, systems biomimicry could ultimately lead to restorative solutions. In this workshop, you will explore how whole systems, integrated sub-systems and connecting adjacent systems can work for you. With a facilitator blend of professor and designer you will see how one team from the Biomimicry Student Design Challenge is applying the systems approach, how you might teach it and ultimately apply systems biomimicry in your work. As a hands-on workshop, you will then work to solve a human challenge by applying a biomimetic systems approach and using Life’s Principles to create a solution which is closer to being “a part of” and not “apart from” Earth’s operating systems.

Primary Audience: University
Tags: Lessons Learned; Sustainability; Design disciplines

Implementing Biomimicry Curriculum at the Elementary Level

Colleen Kelley – Director of Education, Hitchcock Center for the Environment

Children love to explore and discover outdoors. Why not direct their energy toward the concepts and skills of biomimicry? Encouraging children at a young age to “see nature as a source of ideas and as a teacher” was the inspiration behind my elementary level curriculum. During this workshop I will share the curriculum on patterns in nature and systems-thinking that I have developed for young people ages 6-10. From the hexagons in a bee hive, the spiral in a fern fiddlehead, the meanders of a river, and the cycles of a pond, students can easily make connections to the many intricate designs in nature. And they can draw from their observations, becoming inventors who base their innovations on nature’s patterns, designs and systems. Through photos of my programs and hands-on explorations we will observe how the children experienced this learning. We will make connections to State Standards and Frameworks and discuss integration with other teaching domains.

Primary Audience: Youth
Tags: Natural/Biological Sciences; Field experiences; Program models

Nature’s Engineers Youth Outreach Programs

Sue Kezios – Director, Youth Programs, University of North Carolina Wilmington

Nature’s Engineers was developed to introduce very young children to engineering. It uses nature and her organisms to entice kids who are intimidated by math and science to engage in those subjects AND it uses math and science to entice kids who enjoy those subjects, but do not like playing out of doors, to engage with nature. Participants are provided with opportunities to observe living specimens before investigating biomimetic designs and products through hands-on activities in the lab. Each different age-appropriate module culminates in the kids participating in a biomimicry design challenge. Requirements include identifying a problem, researching the ways that nature has solved the problem, and then imagining a solution of their own. Current age-appropriate modules include Construction Critters, Creature Tech, Ecosystem Engineers, Nature Tech and TechnOceans. Originally designed as a summer camp program, Nature’s Engineers has expanded to serve formal classrooms.

Primary Audience: Youth
Tags: Tools; STEM / STEAM-specific focus; Program models

Hosting a Biomimicry Science Fair for Home Schoolers

Karen McDonald – Outreach Coordinator, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Biomimicry can be integrated into informal education settings in a variety of ways, including classes for home schoolers. In this workshop we will examine how our educators conducted a biomimicry science fair at our site, for ages 5-13 yrs., ranging from how it was structured with materials for parents to support for the kids. We’ll then work in break-out groups to brainstorm and discuss how these ideas may be applied at your site.

Primary Audience: Youth
Tags: STEM / STEAM-specific focus; Natural/Biological Sciences; Program models


Lessons from the Egg: Solving Contradictions in Design

Tom McKeag – Adjunct Professor, California College of the Arts

Using an ostrich egg and other props, Tom will lead the audience through an interactive session that first explores with the audience the jobs an egg has to do and then explains some of the wonderful ways in which the egg “solves” its functional problems. Solving contradictions is the theme and this is used as a springboard for more expansive thinking about design problems in general. Along the way we will look at some historical examples from architecture and engineering.

Primary Audience: University
Tags: Design disciplines; Engineering; Natural/Biological Sciences

Serious Play: Co-Creating Biomimicry Games

Theresa Millard – Certified Biomimicry Professional and Co-Founder of Biomimicry Iberia & Anushree Jain – Master of Design candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology

We know there are universal patterns to learning in regards to being active and having fun. Let’s work together as a group to create enjoyable and educational biomimicry games that reinforce learning from nature. Biomimicry Iberia recently prototyped an iteration of this workshop at Moor Allerton, a UK school with lots of fun and success for over 200 children. We will use the same approach – structured design thinking to scale up our ability to learn from each other while developing educational fun content for BEN

During the June conference workshop we will facilitate the front end development of games and prepare for next stage prototypes that we hope you will test in your world. Our inspiration is “Terkel”, a one year old baby rhino at the Tel- Aviv- Ramat Gan Zoological Center, Israel. We will look at some firsthand research about his life and then design some game prototypes based in biomimicry principles and practice.

Primary Audience: Youth
Tags: Tools; Design disciplines; Program models

Biodiversity and Biomimicry of Animals with Young Presenters

Christina Nicolson – Director, Mrs. Nic’s Academia

In this workshop “Mrs. Nic” will offer demonstrations and hands-on activities with assistance from two intellectually motivated middle school interns. Educators will learn tips and tools for teaching inquisitive students about biomimicry in the classroom, museum, or tutoring settings, and hear from young learners themselves. A variety of material will be presented, including: demonstration lessons from “Biomimicry Under the Microscope,” a recent course designed by Mrs. Nic to stimulate deeper inquiry and cross-disciplinary investigations for 7th and 8th grade life scientists; discussion and examples of student contributions to citizen science websites like Encyclopedia of Life, Project Noah, etc.; overview of Mrs. Nic’s outreach efforts arranging visits for students ages 8-14 and their families to top research labs in the Boston area; and more.  Educators will leave with take home handouts of recommended resources and lesson approaches for teaching biomimicry to youth.

Primary Audience: Youth, Informal
Tags: STEM / STEAM-specific focus; Sustainability; Engineering