Denine Jimmerson: Nature vs. Technology?

The following blog post is by Denine Jimmerson, Creativity Curriculum & Evaluation Specialist at FableVision Learning and the Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning, and Creativity. This post first appeared on Denine's blog: and how are the children?

Most people are familiar with the Nature vs. Nurture theory: which attempts to explain human behavior as the result of heredity or their environment. But I would like to pose a different question. How do people learn? Do they learn best using a natural environment as the basis of their learning activities, or is it more effective to teach people by using technological tools?

Many experts believe that it is one or the other-that nature and technology cannot be used together to create an effective learning space. As a result, these two types of pedagogies are often kept very separate in the development of a child’s learning activities.

This week I was talking with colleagues about nature-inspired learning, in which a child’s natural environment inspires children in the design and construct of their learning. We wondered if the integration of technology with nature-based pedagogy even works? Is it one way or the other, is it nature vs. technology?

Sure, children could create digital representations of objects in nature and then print them out, but is this authentic? Would these types of activities promote deeper learning? Probably not. We started to brainstorm about ways children could investigate and create models of nature using digital fabrication, but would that promote a critical study of objects in nature? Would these digital recreations of nature inspire inquiry and critical thinking?

Then I ran across the article Biomimicry: Designing to Model Nature, by Stephanie Vierra. She posited that “Humans have always looked to nature for inspiration to solve problems”. For example: Leonardo da Vinci applied his investigation of birds to design his ideas of human flight, and photovoltaic systems (which harvest solar energy) replicate how leaves harvest their energy. After reading this article, I asked myself why shouldn’t children use technology to model and study nature?

Vierra recommended the application of broader methods of thinking when building products inspired by nature:

  • How would nature solve green building challenges?
  • How does life make things?
  • How does life make the most of things?
  • How does life make things disappear into systems?

These questions would make excellent essential questions that could be used to drive student investigations. Learners could also the Biomimicry Design Spiral as tool to help jumpstart the creative process: Identify, Interpret, Discover, Abstract, and Emulate. And in reflection, the learner could evaluate their product by asking these questions:

  • How do your ideas compare to Life’s Principles, the successful principles of nature?
  • Develop and refine design briefs based on lessons learned from evaluation of Life’s Principles.

I think it is fair to propose that technology and nature do not have to be used as an “either/or” in nature-inspired pedagogy. Learners can use technology to investigate and build their knowledge of the world around them and how they fit into this world. The Fab@School Maker Studio can be used to investigate and solve challenges in the world using nature as the inspiration. Animation-ish can be used to create engaging animations that document the learner’s path of inquiry and deeper understanding of nature-inspired investigations. And My Awesome Publishing Company can give learners a platform to communicate their thoughts about the world (and their place in the world) in the product of written and illustrated form. It is not necessarily Nature vs. Technology after all, and STEAM may soon become “IN-STEAM”… inquiry, nature, science, technology, engineering, art and math.

Kathy LoukosComment