In this lesson, students learn about how humanity has taken inspiration from nature when considering solutions to complex problems. Students will see examples of how micro:bits can be used to innovate and solve problems. The lesson concludes with an overview of design thinking and iterative design. Learners participate in a design challenge to develop a solution to one of the ocean conservation issues in the previous lesson.
- Speculative Design
- A design method addressing big societal problems and looking toward the future—and creating products and services for those scenarios (Ho Tran, 2019)
- Iterative Design
- A form of design in which students continually work and improve upon their design, with the goal of continual improvement (rather than building something once and never touching it again) (Engineless, 2021)
- Ho Tran, T. (2019, April 8). Speculative Designs: 3 examples of design fiction. Invision.
- Macy, J., & Johnstone, C. (2018, April 30). The Great Turning. Gaia Education.
Introduce the UN’s Global Sustainable Goals
Watch the following video about the UN’s Global Sustainable Goals:
After viewing the video, complete the My Better World worksheet.As learners complete the worksheet, have them brainstorm what their interpretation of what a better world would look like. They can include their thoughts in the bubbles or categorize them.
Some helpful prompts to get started might include:
- Where would you live?
- What would you do as a job?
- Who would you be with?
- Would you have any goals for the world around you or your community?
- How would you feel?
After completing the worksheet, discuss why it is important to develop goals that everyone on the planet can work toward. As the people do in the video, brainstorm what the class would include in their sustainable goals.
Bonus: Visit the UN website to explore the UN’s goals together. Pay particular attention to #13 Climate Action and #14 Life Below Water. Compare and contrast with the list you developed as a class.
Extra Bonus: Some FREE resource tools you might find useful to digitally collaborate with are:
The Design Redefined video series is an engaging resource for learning about biomimicry (when nature inspires human-made technologies and innovations). Each video explores a different design found in nature and provides examples of how scientists around the world seek to replicate that engineering in modern innovations. Most videos also include a visual explanation of the mechanics behind each design element to show how modern technology can learn from nature.
Design Redefined, Part 1: Introduction
Design Redefined, Part 2: Humpback Whales
Design Redefined, Part 3: Seahorse Tails
As a class or in small groups, have learners brainstorm technologies that might be inspired by innovations in nature.
Design Thinking Challenge Activity
In this activity, learners become innovators to protect the ocean and explore design strategies using an iterative design approach.
Design Thinking Challenge Activity
In this activity, students explore design strategies and the value of connecting to end users—the people the design is intended for—during the process to help validate design decisions. Students also learn the value of an iterative design approach. This activity can be completed over two or three periods—the first period to gather research on their assigned marine species and the second (and third) period(s) to design potential solutions.
Set Up the Activity
- Learners complete most steps individually but will need to work with partners for some elements. Set up the learning space to accommodate this
- For the working environment, consider ways to promote creative learning spaces, such as playing upbeat music or rearranging the classroom
- Display a widely visible timer that lets learners know how much time they have left during each step
Step 1: Select a Marine Species to Research
Consider the following questions:
- What marine mammal will your group research?
- What are some facts about the marine mammal?
- Its habitat (ocean and/or land?)
- What does it eat?
- Is it a source of food?
- What are some of its adaptations to the environment? (How do Inuit mimic or take from that innovation?)
- How is climate change affecting the animals in their habitat?
- What’s causing these changes?
- How are these changes affecting the many different habitats we share around the world with other animals and plants?
Learners can prepare notes that they can share with a partner in the exercise in step 2.
Step 2: Gather Information from Partners
Split learners into pairs. Ideally, each partner in a pair has researched a different marine species.
The challenge is for each partner to gather as much information as they can about the needs of their partner’s marine animal. Partner A has four minutes to interview Partner B, then switch.
To begin, ask each set of partners to tell each other all about the marine species they researched. Questions they may ask each other might include:
- What habitat does it live in?
- How do humans interact with it?
- What challenges does this animal face?
Make notes as you speak.
Step 3: Make Discoveries
Outline two or three key takeaways from your conversation with your partner. Write down one or two issues they identified that their marine species encounters. Be as descriptive as possible!
Step 4a: Synthesize Information
In this step, challenge learners to synthesize all the information they have gathered so far and distill it into a problem statement. They should focus on a single problem identified in the previous step.
Learners are gathering information and encouraged to use rich descriptive language to identify the problem. Then learners try to identify what the world would look like if this problem were solved. Lead this section for learners by asking: “What in the world around this animal would need to change in order for the problem you have identified to be solved?”
For Example: “Beluga whales are facing interruption to their communication, feeding, and migration as a result of noise pollution. They would need quiet oceans in order to maintain communication, feeding, and migration.”
Step 4b: Summarize
Using what has been learned and summarized from their conversations, learners should fill in the blanks in the following statement to identify their problem statement.
Step 5: Explore the Future
In this step, try to encourage learners to imagine themselves standing in a place and time in the future. This step is meant to be purely imaginative. There are no constraints on the futures we are designing. If there is new technology in this future, it doesn’t have to be anything that is possible or even plausible to make today. Motivate learners with some of the following details:
- Any technology that exists in the future you propose does not have to be possible in today’s world
- Technology may have changed, but laws, policy, and human activity may have changed too!
- There are no wrong answers when we are world-building
If learners struggle, seed their imagination by asking them to describe what can be detected by their five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste) in the future.
For example, if learners imagine a future in which Arctic Oceans are clean enough for ringed seals to survive, that might mean that:
- The Arctic Ocean is full of marine animals; all animal populations now in decline have recovered
- Solar and wind power are so advanced that there is no more oil or gas being extracted
- Production of plastics has been banned and we have capacity to produce plant-based bioplastics to replace ALL plastics
Create an environment that might help promote creativity during this process. For example, consider playing background music as students sit with their thoughts. Ask students to refrain from talking while everyone is left with their thoughts to consider the possibilities for the future.
Step 6: Imagine a Future World
Have learners read over their problem statement again. Now consider a future in which the problem has been solved and their solution has occurred. What does it look like? What is different from today? How much time has passed? Have learners write or doodle their responses. Remind learners that their ideas can be as far-fetched as they would like. Remind learners to ground themselves in the future world they developed in the previous step. This can be done by again focusing on the five senses and taking note of what they observe.
“Remind yourself that in this world the problem you identified has been solved. What kind of technologies could have helped get the world to this state?”
To continue with the ringed seals example:
- New bioplastics exist that are fully biodegradable
- Saltwater batteries power vehicles
- Autonomous robots swim through the ocean to collect plastic trash from the past
- We have developed technology that can quickly convert all types of garbage into harmless compost
Step 7: Discover Future Artifacts
Now that you have transported yourself to the future, what technologies exist? How has human activity changed? Use the boxes below to brainstorm four ideas in words or images.
Step 8: Social Media Post Exercise
How did your imaginary innovation change the world for the better? We can also consider this exercise to be comparable to a social media post. What would the headline be? What would an accompanying image show? What details would the article reveal about the invention or the world? Focus on one of the technologies you discovered in the future. Think about the day that the problem you identified has been solved using that technology. Draw a picture for your post and write a caption that explains what made it all possible.
Caption example: The oceans are now completely plastic-free! The invention of ocean clean-up robots has allowed us to remove all plastic waste from the oceans. As a result, species affected by ocean contamination—such as ringed seals—are thriving again.
Step 9: Conclusion
Congratulate learners at the end of this step! They have successfully visited the future and brought back some important knowledge to us in the present! Lead a debrief with the group: Now we know what an ideal future looks like and the practices and technologies that exist there. How can we use that information in the present?
Guide learners to the understanding that having clear, positive ideas about the future allows people in the present to determine what steps need to be taken to reach that future. For example, if you have identified that ocean clean-up robots would require clean energy power sources, we might imagine that they would be powered by saltwater batteries. We can now continue to work backwards from here. What innovations/inventions would be required to develop saltwater batteries?
For example: Protective coatings for metal wires so they do not become corroded by saltwater OR replacements for metal wires.
If we continue working through this exercise, eventually we arrive at an innovation that is not far out of reach in the present day. In the example above, we identified that protective coatings for wires or waterproof wire materials would be needed. This is technology that is currently available and this exercise has helped show that working on protective metal coatings could lead to much larger future innovations.
You may choose to work one example backwards with your class or have all the students attempt it, or you may leave the exercise here. What is important to realize is that from these speculative futures, it is possible to reverse engineer strategies and innovations that can be developed and enacted in the present moment.
Speculative design is an important problem-solving approach because it frees designers from present-day constraints and allows them to imagine any and all possible futures. This creates the opportunity for extraordinary optimism, possibility, and “active hope” (Macy & Johnstone, 2018).