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Board 156: Making Inspired by Nature: Engaging Preservice Elementary Teachers and Children in Maker-centered Learning and Biomimicry

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Douglas C Williams University of Louisiana

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Douglas Williams, Ph.D., is Director of the Center for Innovative Learning and Assessment Technologies (CILAT) at UL Lafayette and a professor of educational technology in the College of Education. Dr. Williams holds bachelors and masters degrees in computer science and a Ph.D. in educational technology. He has more than 30 years’ experience as a programmer, was a member of the team that developed Rigglefish, a web-based game for engaging middle and high school children in scientific inquiry and genetics. RiggleFish won 1st Place in the 2011 Adobe Design Achievement Award, Innovation in Interactive Media category and a gold medal in the 2011 International Serious Play Awards competition. His research lies in the area of educational robotics, computer-based problem-based learning, educational games, situated cognition, assessment, making in education, thinking strategies in the design-centered classroom.

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Aimee Barber University of Louisiana at Lafayette

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Aimee is a senior instructor of Elementary and Early Childhood Education methods courses at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She teaches classroom management and technology in the classroom with a focus on maker-centered learning as way to increase student learning and engagement. She also supervises teacher candidates during their internships and is working toward a doctoral degree in Curriculum, Teaching, and Teacher Education at the University of Florida.

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Peter Sheppard University of Louisiana at Lafayette

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Dr. Peter Sheppard is a Professor and Department Head in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His research seeks to uncover demonstrable ways to enhance the schooling experiences of underrepresented groups, so that discussions regarding their cerebral capacity shift from embellishing test score discrepancies to fostering a culture of mathematics excellence.

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Title Making Inspired by Nature: Engaging Preservice Elementary Teachers and Children in Maker-centered learning and Biomimicry

Abstract Makerspaces, innovation labs, and creativity spaces are gaining traction in K-12 schools and community centers. This exploratory project, Making Inspired by Nature, brings together the art of making, the disciplined practices of design thinking, and the creative practices of biomimicry to engage preservice teachers and children in building innovative solutions to real-world problems. To achieve this, this project is (a) building and evaluating digital resources and hands-on activities for engaging elementary children in innovation through the application of biomimicry and design thinking in a maker context and (b) evaluating models for deepening pre-service teachers’ pedagogical knowledge for supporting student learning in maker-centered classrooms. This NSF IUSE funded project, just ending year 1 of a 2-year project, was in response to an NSF Dear Colleague Letter calling for EAGER proposals to conduct exploratory work with respect to STEM learning and design thinking.

Maker-centered learning, an infusing of many of the practices and ethos of the maker movement into education, provides a framework for developing in teachers and students the mindsets, habits of mind, and processes of innovation that are foundational in all fields of study (Clapp, Ross, Ryan, Tishman, 2016). In a maker-centered classroom, learning is collaborative, driven by curiosity, includes the act of making through prototyping, is interdisciplinary, and shared (Clapp et. al).

Biomimicry provides a unique opportunity for students to investigate how their designs might be inspired by the natural world. Biomimicry, or bio-inspired design fits within the broader field of design-by-analogy (Fu, Moreno, Yang, Wood, 2014). Biomimicry, looking to nature for inspiration, provides an innovative way for engaging children in making, engineering design, and learning about nature. Biomimicry’s interdisciplinary nature engages children in a variety of scientific domains such as life science, chemistry, physics, and engineering. Children may find its hopeful orientation empowering since they not only learn about pressing problems facing humanity but are provided opportunities to apply their own thinking and ingenuity in making solutions.

Methodology Data collection includes qualitative and quantitative data to provide information on the quality of the materials, the design iterations, perceived impacts on pre-service teachers and students, and strengths and challenges associated with implementation of the newly developed materials. Data sources include pre-service teacher pre and post surveys (N=70), pre-service teacher interviews (N=50), and student interviews (N=81).

Survey data was collected for pre/post analyses on demographic information and a range of outcome variables: (1) emphasis, value, and utility of core foundational experience topics, (2) teaching efficacy and beliefs related to mathematics problem-solving and biomimicry in science (Tschannen- Moran & Hoy, 2001), (3) connectedness to nature (Mayer & Frantz, 2004) and (4) resources necessary to support their work as a maker educator in the future.

Pre-service teacher focus group participants were randomly selected. They were asked about: their experience with project materials, curricula, and the website; participation in Science and Innovation Saturday Program student camps; participation in the summer Innovation, Design, and Robotics camp; perceived outcomes for themselves and their potential students; and strengths and challenges of the project.

Analyses and findings will be shared at the conference.

Williams, D. C., & Barber, A., & Sheppard, P. (2019, June), Board 156: Making Inspired by Nature: Engaging Preservice Elementary Teachers and Children in Maker-centered Learning and Biomimicry Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32274

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