Creative ways to bring nature into the classroom

Seyi Adelekun tells us how her Teaching for Creativity resource encourages students to learn from nature & use ecologically sustainable ideas in design

18 May 2021

In this series of blogs, the writers of our Teaching for Creativity education resources explain more about their chosen curriculum and topic areas, and how this works together with teaching creative habits.

Nature inspired design is a Design Technology / Science resource for Key Stage 2 and 3, focusing on the creative habit of collaboration.

Seyi’s resource encourages students to explore biomimicry and take inspiration from nature to design sustainable human technologies that could solve everyday problems, through to issues caused by pollution and climate destruction.

Why I chose to focus on this topic

I’m an artist and architectural designer; my practice focuses on designing more sustainable and community-led spaces. I currently work at Assemble, a multi-disciplinary collective working across architecture, design and art; and the arts organisation Artangel, who produce site-specific public art projects. I’m interested in art and architecture spaces that support better social infrastructure and environmental health through community co-designed placemaking. I’m massively inspired by the natural world and I try to create work that connects us to nature so that we can nurture healthier relationships with ourselves, others, and the environment. I want to create projects that use sustainable design and materials to construct self-sufficient communities and promote environmental stewardship.

In 2019 I designed and built my installation Plastic Pavilion – an undulating colorful canopy made from 1600 recycled plastic bottles, inspired by natural geometry mimicked in stained glass murals. The aim was to create a striking, sensory experience that raises awareness of the wastefulness of single-use plastic and promotes recycled plastic as a beautiful and viable material in construction. Through public art, I wanted to change people’s perspective about everyday material so that they can be more resourceful and imagine new ways of experiencing the world around us.

Throughout history artists, designers, scientists, and engineers have used biomimicry to design products, but the term 'biomimicry' itself is fairly new. The climate crisis is the biggest challenge society faces, but it is barely addressed in the national curriculum. So, in recent years, there has been growing interest in teaching the subject to young people who will have to live with the consequences of the climate crisis.

Everything in the universe has been designed and people are starting to understand why it is important to inspire young people to be innovators, so that they can have the power to create products, processes, and policies that shape the world. I was introduced to biomimicry when I facilitated a model-making workshop at Argyle Primary School where I worked with a Year 4 class to design a Bumblebee Hotel as part of Camden’s Borough’s Biomimicry School Challenge. I was fascinated by the subject and desperately wanted to learn more about it so that I could be involved in educating more young people about the practice.

Why it is important that students learn about biomimcry?

For all the challenges we face, nature has a solution. So, I thought it was important to focus my resource on teaching young people about biomimicry, which is the practice of looking to nature for inspiration to solve design problems in a regenerative way.

With the current global crisis, I believe it's important to provide young people with the tools they need to overcome the challenges life throws at them – whether that be the effects of the climate crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, or just everyday struggles they face. Sitting within the context of science and design & technology in the curriculum, the Nature inspired design resource encourages young people to think of new ways of living that solve our greatest design challenges sustainably, and in solidarity with all life on earth. Whilst doing so they will also learn to creatively work together and take initiative to make a positive impact in their community.

Biomimicry changes our lens on the world and teaches us to value nature for what we can learn, not what we can extract. It empowers young people to be innovators and design sustainable solutions with care and compassion, and it helps us to learn about ourselves, our purpose, and our connection to each other and our home on Earth.

Learning how to be collaborative

We use our creative skills in all aspects of our lives, therefore teaching for creativity has countless benefits. It allows students to view and solve problems more openly and with innovation, and in doing so become more resilient. It's also important because it nurtures ideas and inspires collective thinking amongst students and teaches them how to work together to be visionaries.

Biomimicry is all about creativity! It is an excellent example of STEAM learning, which teaches multiple subject areas simultaneously through project-based learning, and fosters an inclusive learning environment so that all students are able to engage and contribute. Biomimicry is not only about learning from the natural world, it’s also about learning from each other and ourselves in the process. It has loads of benefits, such as developing collaboration skills, which can help us problem-solve and build on each other's skill sets. As students work together to explore, question, research, discover, and exercise innovative building skills, they also will open-up new channels of communication with their peers; learning to contribute to ideas through inquiry, dialogue, critical thinking and peer-to-peer assessment.

Thinking of the future

The biggest takeaway I hope students leave with is a stronger appreciation for nature. This might encourage them to spend more time in nature, explore and be more inquisitive about what's around them. I hope it provides young people with the creative tools to think sustainably about problems and makes them feel inspired to apply their new knowledge to other situations in life. I also hope they feel more confident in their ability to experiment with new ideas and are empowered to use their initiative to take on new challenges collaboratively, so that they might go on to make their ideas a reality and make a positive impact in their community.

I hope to engage more with environmental activism groups such as Architects Climate Action Network so that I can learn more about decarbonising the construction industry and designing space with more biodiversity. I’m also interested in working on projects that promote a regenerative circular economy that fosters a greater awareness of the stuff that we consume, build and dispose of. For instance, before Covid-19, I had plans to do a few DIY workshops in schools, working with young people to build their own growing space using recycled materials. When public activity becomes possible again, I’d love to develop these projects further and co-design more spaces with different community groups.

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