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Posted - 12/19/2017
(Re)Imagining Learning to Shift a Paradigm by Jo Fleming, Biomimicry Collaborative
“In order to (re)create conditions conducive to life on this planet for ALL life, including effectively managing a rapidly changing climate, we need to reimagine and evolve the way our children learn to have the most significant, positive impact over the long term... moving us as a species towards stewardship and regenerative action, rather than utilization.”

Our 'Pause' opened with a council: a beginning free of pretense and hierarchy,a forum nurturing to all vulnerabilities.

As a strong foundation for the work that lay ahead, we knew it was important to first ‘ground’ like this—to connect with self, each other, and place. It was a crisp morning at that quiet spot in the Helena National Forest where we sat beside a clear, shallow pond—home to dozens of elusive Brown and Brook trout and countless more skittering water striders. In all directions, bar the old,rustic,wooden cabins we were staying in, a mosaic of green−pines,firs, and cottonwoods− rose up to meet the ‘big Montana sky ’above. ‘Place’ of course naturally included all of the organisms there that would support, nurture and inspire us in the days ahead.

There were six of us in this Biomimicry Collaborative —all women, all trained biomimics —representing four countries: the US, Canada, Guyana and Australia.Together we encompassed experience in the fields of design, architecture, materials science, engineering, biology, ecology, business, educationand leadership.Pause was a chance for us toconverge,unplug,and to take a deep,generous breath. There, and only there, far from conference calls and swelling inboxes, could we immerse all of our molecules and neurons collaboratively and fully in our goal:  to explore how climate change action could be enhanced by integrating Biomimicry philosophy and process, i.e., learning from and emulating nature, into K-12 education.

Following council we settled in on the problem we were at Pause to solve. After a rich morning of impassioned discussion, we recognized that we needed to go much bigger than our initial ideas–we needed to address the problem at a systems’ level —in essence, we believed that a major paradigm shift was needed in how our young people across the globe learn to affect climate change action. Anew, nature-inspired model of learning for our young people would ultimately be what would fuel much more sustainable behaviors in our adults,a model that would move us as a species towards stewardship and regenerative actions, rather than utilization.

A rich discussion on the framework for “re-imagining learning” began with us reviewing our training in Biomimicry philosophy, process,and tools. Key take-aways from trainings, readings and talks with Biomimicry’s current-day heroes Janine Benyus and Dr. Dayna Baumeister were feverishly captured on flip charts. We recalled how some of history’s great polymaths (persons of wide-ranging experience and knowledge, as well as profoundly influential in their times) such as Alexander Von Humboldt, Leonardo Da Vinci, Charles Darwin, Buckminster Fuller and Vandana Shiva, learned their most important lessons:through curiosity,and deeply experiencing and observing nature.

Sue Okerstrom shared with the group outcomes of her pilot program, Macro to Micro, that she conducted with 7thgraders at two US schools in Boston, MA and Ely, Minnesota. She talked about how she immersed the youngsters in a local,natural environment to foster curiosity, raise questions and gather specimens. Back in her lab in Minneapolis, Sue then gave the classrooms of young explorers remote live control of her scanning electron microscope to zoom and pan around the intriguing artifacts from specimens they collected including a bee antennae and butterfly wing. She recalled how the journey of discovery left gaped mouths and bouncing in seats as more and more questions arose among the virtually connected group. Similarly, her images had the same effect on us, reawakening that childlike sense of awe and wonder—making us even more energized around the direction we wanted to take. We knew we were on the right path.

Exploring all these pieces within the broad, robust framework discussion helped us identify that for the new framework to cause a significant shift in mindset and behavior it must include (re)connect and ethical components as non-negotiables. The first, (re)connect,could be achieved with multi-sensorial, immersive experiences in nature where deep observation and discovery could be fostered.The second,ethical components,could be achieved by group dialogues guided by the educator after the immersive experiences. This approach would ensure that the groups would ask and answer questions like: “Why is this important?”, “What is our own relationship to and role within this ecosystem?”, “How could we learn from nature here for our human challenges?”, And...“What would nature not do? ”Exploring social equity across our species would also be just as critical as understanding our roles with other species within these systems.

Another of the key framework concepts that arose was the importance of emergent learning rather than top-down, digest-to-test styles of learning. With emergent learning the educator would become the facilitator—a guide rather than an authority.  Far more critical in this role would be who the educator is being—the kinds of questions they would ask of their students,and the way they would ask them, more so than what the educators individually actually know. There are a lot of Montessori and similar approaches that can be learned from. Maybe even the terms ‘educator’ and ‘teacher’ will become outdated as a new title for this curious, passionate facilitator emerges such as “guide” as used in Montessori settings.

We also acknowledged the importance of harnessing technology to support discoveries from nature and their further exploration, just as Sue had facilitated with her microscope and the 7thgraders. With every human sense there is likely a technology that would help students go beyond their own sensory limits, providing an opportunity for even greater understanding of the natural world around them. Opening up learning beyond human sensory limits will reveal a whole new world of a we, inspiration,(re)connection and likely desire for reciprocity and regenerative action.

Our Biomimicry Collaborative started our 'Pause' with the goal to explore how climate change action could be enhanced by integrating Biomimicry philosophy and process, i.e.,learning from and emulating nature, into K-12 education. What was unexpected from this process, and provided great evidence supporting taking a 'Pause', was the outcome of our group appreciating the larger, deeper system issue, and then responding with how that system, in which the issue exists, could be significantly shifted or transformed. It is clearer than ever to us that in order to(re)create conditions conducive to life on this planet for ALL life,including effectively managing a rapidly changing climate,we need to reimagine and evolve the way our children learn to have the mostsignificant, positive impact over the long term.

Written by Jo Flemingon behalf of, and with much gratitude for her inspiring partners at the Biomimicry Collaborative; Diana Hammer, Sue Okerstrom, Sherry Ritter, Christine Lintott and Chitra Dwarka. The Biomimicry Collaborative is open and energized to pursue further partnerships, alliances, grants, and ways to make a nature-based learning model the new global model for learning —please contact them at