Solar Ivy: SMIT (2013)
By Allison Dow
Throughout the grade 7 Form and Function Unit, students have the opportunity to explore and experiment with the various types of structures and mechanisms that humans have designed and modified throughout time. While many of these structures have proved to be grand advancements making our lives easier and more efficient, we often overlook the innovations that nature has been developing and evolving for millions of years. Bio-mimicry is an area of study and design that uses the inspiration of naturally-occurring elements to meet many of our design challenges in a highly effective manner. This area within science is currently receiving much attention as biology proves to have already solved many of our human predicaments.
Some simple examples of Bio-mimicry include solar, ivy-like, solar panel leaves from the company Sustainably Minded Interactive Technology (SMIT). Sharklet™ Surface Protection has mimicked the dermal denticles on shark skin which resist bacterial growth, to create adhesive-backed skins that can be placed on high-touched areas such as door handles to effectively reduce spread of bacteria and viruses (InterfaceFLOR). Additionally, wind turbines, bathing suits, submarines, and many aviation and robotic designs have emulated the highly effective approach that nature has taken to solve its own design challenges such as running quickly over rough terrain as seen in cockroaches, water-resistant cuticles on plant tissue leaves, and infra-red detecting sight in many insects.
Students will be challenged to meet a design challenge either in our society or a third world society that meets a current human need in a sustainable way. Students will be encouraged to look for a design pattern found in nature that could be applied to create an effective and efficient human tool, mechanism, or structure. They will have access to recyclable materials as well as common green mechanisms like small solar panels, and any additional tools required for building, such as string, tape, nails, and hammers.
In groups of 2-3, students will meet their design challenge by:
- Identifying a need in either our society or in a society of need
- Proposing their bio-mimicry concept to the class in request for constructive and positive feedback
- Developing a blue-print design with required materials for their innovative mechanism
- Creating a working prototype of their mechanism
- Delivering a marketing presentation on their product to the class
- Students identify a unique design challenge that can be met by bio-mimicry
- Students use recycled materials or energy conserving materials
- Students work cooperatively as a team while supporting the design process of other groups
- Students accurately identify the form and function concepts from the unit to their product
- Students are able to identify the benefits and drawbacks of their product economically and environmentally.
This culminating design challenge activity will take a class period to complete effectively in order to meet the success criteria and allow students the time to construct a working model.
The materials required for each group to develop their own product will depend on the design and intended function of that product. Save recyclable products from your house and classroom so that students can begin the design process and bring in any additional required materials from home. Sheets of malleable plastic and small, re-usable solar panels can be ordered from science supply stores and will not take too much of the funds from your Science budget.
Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank TV Show style
Provide each member of your class with fake money that they can use to invest in the product of their choice. They cannot simply choose to invest in their own product but must choose from one of the other groups. Have students prepared to ask questions about their target market and marketing strategies. The top three groups can have a picture with their bio-mimicry product and their write up and blue-print posted on the class bulletin.
Supporting Available Resources
- You Tube Video: Bio-Inspiration: Nature as Muse – KQED QUEST:
- You Tube Video: Biomimicry and Landscape Architecture:
- TED Talks: Janine Benyus: The promise of biomimicry:
Grade 7 Overall Expectations Met
Science: Form and Function
1. analyse personal, social, economic, and environmental factors that need to be considered in designing and building structures and devices;
2. design and construct a variety of structures, and investigate the relationship between the design and function of these structures and the forces that act on them
Geography: Natural Resources
• use a variety of resources and tools to gather, process, and communicate geographic information about the distribution, use, and importance of natural resources;
• describe positive and negative ways in which human activity can affect resource sustainability and the health of the environment.
The Arts: Visual Arts
D1. Creating and Presenting: apply the creative process (see pages 19–22) to produce art works in a variety of traditional two- and three-dimensional forms, as well as multimedia art works, that communicate feelings, ideas, and understandings, using elements, principles, and techniques of visual arts as well as current media technologies
Language: Oral Communication
- Listen in order to understand and respond appropriately in a variety of situations for a variety of purposes;
- Use speaking skills and strategies appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes
Read and demonstrate an understanding of a variety of literary, graphic, and informational texts, using a range of strategies to construct meaning
- Generate, gather, and organize ideas and information to write for an intended purpose and audience;
- Draft and revise their writing, using a variety of informational, literary, and graphic forms and stylistic elements appropriate for the purpose and audience
Concepts in financial literacy from the Financial Literacy (2010) document and environmental literacy from the Acting Today Shaping Tomorrow (2009) documents are met throughout this activity.
Sharklet™ Technologies Inc.(2010). Sharklet™ Surface Protection. Retrieved from:
Sustainably Minded Interactive Technology (2013). Retrieved from:
Allison Dow was a pre-service teacher at Brock University when she wrote this article. Allison was a recipient of the 2013 Don Galbraith Pre-Service Teacher Award of Excellence with this submission.