This collection of activities for grades 3‑5 provides ideas and strategies for tying biomimicry into science and engineering design standards.


Students in grades 3-5 are starting to grasp more complex ideas and understand the world in slightly more and more abstract ways. Developing and understanding models and systems is a focus at this grade level. At each grade level, students are challenged to address engineering problems. Each of these challenges requires students to think about the functions necessary to solve various problems. For example, in fourth grade students are asked to design a device that converts energy from one form to another. Activities provided in this bundle will start to help both students and teachers see functions in the natural world and potentially use the newfound knowledge of natural functions and the AskNature website to inspire solutions to their engineering challenges.

Relevant Standards

Specific focus in grades 3, 4 and 5 as addressed by the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs), Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs), and Crosscutting Concepts of the Next Generation Science Standards that apply to are paraphrased below. To read more about the standards and three dimensions please click on the links.

3-5 Engineering Design Concepts (NGSS 3-5 ETS1)

  • Define design problems and constraints
  • Generate and compare solutions that fit within constraints
  • Carry out tests to determine how design can be improved

3rd Grade Concepts

  • Focus on the biological strategy of animal group behavior (3-LS2-1)
  • Focus on organism traits (as an introduction to the study of heredity) (3-LS3-1, 3-LS3-2)
  • Study how organisms are affected by environmental change (3-LS4-4)
  • Evaluate natural hazard design solutions (3-ESS3-1)

4th Grade Concepts

  • Design a device that converts energy from one form to another. (4-PS3-4)
  • Communicate and evaluate solutions that use patterns to transfer information. (4-PS4-3)
  • Recognize that systems and system models are inherent to the study of internal and external structures of plants and animals and learn how these parts work together so the organism survives. (4-LS1-1)
  • Compare solutions that reduce impacts of natural Earth processes. (4-ESS3-2)

5th Grade Concepts

  • Focus on the processes within plants that allow them to form plant matter from air and water with sunlight through (5-PS3-1, 5-LS1-1)
  • Think system wide about how matter moves around an ecosystem through a food web. (5-LS2-1)
  • Explore ways that individuals and communities can protect Earth’s resources and environments. (5-ESS3-1)

Zooming In

Kick off students’ study of biomimicry by delving into nature. This engaging activity gets students outside observing the world very closely. Science Notebooks or Nature Journals are a recommended accompaniment so students get practice recording observations, sketching and recording reflections.

Exploring Trees

The Five Minute Field Trip curriculum contains some excellent and classic activities for students to explore trees at a deeper level – as systems. The activity Make a Tree (page 30) is a full body exercise in which students become the internal structures of the tree and see firsthand how those structures work together. This can be preceded or followed by the Be a Tree activity (page 10) where guided imagery is used to help students understand what it is like to be a tree over the course of a year, and experience some of the functions that occur within a tree.

A simple walk or hike with tree observation takes on a whole new meaning after these activities.

We Are Not Alone

As student learning shifts from exploration of natural phenomena to understanding how functions in nature can inspire human solutions, continue the tree theme by completing the We Are Not Alone activity. Having just enacted the functions of a tree should give students great insight when brainstorming how these functions apply to a manmade structure – a building.

The short, AskNature Nugget video “How Does Nature Make Materials?” serves as a great introduction to this activity.

AskNature Nugget: "How Does Nature Make Materials?

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More AskNature Nuggets are available here

Function Junction

After students have compared the systems and functions within a tree, to the systems and functions necessary to a tall building, elaborate on this concept with Function Junction. This activity helps students see the many ways that nature solves problems that also need to be solved by humans, and that nature’s solutions can inspire ours.

Reinventing With Nature

To give students a chance to apply what they have learned in a new way, this short activity allows them to think critically about different human designed objects (a shoe, a cell phone, a car, and a building) in terms of their function and what inspiration from nature could improve them.