In this 10-20 minute interactive exercise the functions that a building must perform are compared to the functions that a tree must perform, helping students see that humans are not alone in our need to solve challenges.


  • Students will compare the function of a building to the functions of a tree.
  • Students will discuss and draw conclusions about what nature can teach us about solving technological challenges.

Humans often feel that we are so different from other organisms that we face unique challenges. One of ’s most important teachings is that nature has had to solve the same challenges that humans do, and that nature’s technological solutions can address humanity’s technological challenges. In other words, we are not alone: we are surrounded by a wealth of ideas for solving our own challenges.

This activity conveys this important idea by having students brainstorm together the functions that trees perform and those that we need our buildings to perform. By comparing the functions on each list, they’ll discover that our needs have a lot in common with those of trees.

This activity is a good lead-in to a design exercise where students find their own inspirations from the natural world to help them with a design challenge.

For young learners, this activity could be modified or extended by incorporating the song “We Are Not Alone” on the children’s music album, Ask the Planet, and doing the accompanying activity.