To use biomimicry to address sustainability issues, students benefit from having a good understanding of ecosystem processes and understanding cause-and-effect. This understanding of ecosystems also contributes to looking at design through a systems approach.
From the authors:
“The curriculum is designed around best practices in science education. Lessons include inquiry-based activities that ask students to make observations and construct understandings. Lessons begin by having students examine their current beliefs. Student discussion is a central activity and teachers are encouraged to create an environment where students are comfortable sharing their ideas. Through discussion, students will realize that science involves revising one’s ideas based on the relevant evidence to best explain the phenomenon in question.”
There are six sections addressing common misunderstandings that students have about ecosystem causality. Note that some links in the curriculum for sections 4 and 5 will require a different approach (see below).
- Understanding the connectedness of ecosystems using domino causality. This section addresses students’ tendency to focus on direct effects to the exclusion of indirect effects. It introduces domino causality to help students detect indirect effects of ecosystem events. It reveals that the transfer of energy in a food web is domino-like.
- Learning about decay using cyclic causality. This section addresses students’ tendency to miss cyclic causal relationships. It helps students to realize that the same atoms are continuously recycled between the living and non-living parts of an ecosystem. This “circle of decay” is always happening. A contrast is drawn between matter, which is recycled, and energy, which is not.
- Thinking about obvious and non-obvious causes of decomposition. This section addresses students’ tendency to consider only the most obvious causes of an effect. It helps students to see that non-obvious microbes are the primary decomposers, that things don’t “fall apart” on their own, and that detritivores that we can see, such as earthworms and sow bugs, are responsible for only a small percentage of decomposition.
- Decay takes time: detecting causal relationships despite temporal delays. This section addresses students’ tendency to miss effects that involve time delays. It helps students to realize that decay occurs even if we aren’t likely to notice it on a regular basis because we don’t typically observe what happens to matter over a long time span. Note: the time lapse video link doesn’t work. Educators can check YouTube for other videos showing fruit decay. If students aren’t squeamish, a video of a decomposing rabbit will give them a better sense of decomposition in the wild and reveals some of the larger organisms involved in it.
- Understanding two-way causality in ecosystems. This section addresses students’ tendency to notice effects in one direction only. It helps students understand that two-way or mutual causal relationships describe many interdependencies in the ecosystem. Note: The StarLogo computer simulation has been archived but it’s apparently possible to run it from this link. Alternatively, the class could do the reinforcement activity which expands on the Web of Life game in Section 1.
- Understanding balance and flux in ecosystems. This section addresses students’ tendency to over-emphasize balance in ecosystems to the exclusion of flux. It helps students to realize that balance and flux are natural states in an ecosystem and that each state plays a role in ecosystem dynamics.