Discover the genius inside you, by discovering the genius around you!

The upper elementary version of Engineering Inspired by Nature is a 2-3 week unit (10-15 hours) introducing 3rd-6th grade students to engineering through the ingeniousness of the living world around us. The unit aims to reconnect young people with the wonder of Nature (without having to leave the classroom or schoolyard) while at the same time teaching students the Engineering Design skills highlighted in the Next Generation Science Standards. Along the way, the curriculum explores fundamental concepts and develops skills in many engineering subfields, as well as concepts in physics, life science, and more. Finally, the unit supports students developing into Nature-inspired engineers themselves, capable of observing and applying technological ideas from the natural world to solve human challenges through innovation, just like modern professional engineers, architects, and designers do.

Of course to do all this, the unit has to be fun and engaging…not just for students, but for teachers too!  Fortunately, the natural world, and what people are learning from it, is so utterly fascinating that making this material engaging for everyone isn’t hard to do. The unit helps students discover, for example:

  • How would a pond beetle design a boat without a propeller?
  • Why don’t plants need janitors to keep their leaves clean?
  • What can snail mucus teach us about making flexible armor?
  • Why aren’t chicken eggs square?

…and much more! In the unit students get to wear special glasses to see mechanical forces literally stretching and bending molecules that make up materials. They design and test towers, gliders, and boats inspired by Nature. They discover how snails can travel with one foot over an adhesive mucus (hint: it transforms when needed into a lubricant), and that’s just the beginning! In the end, after getting lots of practice problem-solving with Nature’s help, students design their own inventions, having learned to see and engage with Nature as a phenomena full of extraordinary abilities and things to teach us, able to help humankind innovate to make our world a better place.

Take a look at what’s possible in our gallery of Nature-inspired innovations created by young people!

The material list for the unit is here for you to review. All of the materials are easy and inexpensive to acquire. A kit version of the curriculum, containing all the materials, teacher’s guide, and classroom poster is also available through our partners at Sempco, which you can order here.

If you would like to download the digital version of the curriculum now, simply register hereWe only ask that you provide feedback to us about the curriculum, from simple evaluations to images of students engaging in the unit’s activities. 

Thank you for all the work that you do! If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

“The nature-inspired engineering unit was just what my students and I needed to take our STEM class to the next level. The material is a perfect match for my nature based STEM classes which feed into the NGSS engineering standards for our students’ report cards. I am thrilled to have the resources provided by The Center for Learning with Nature and I am excited to share them with more STEM teachers in our area!”

Please note: This unit is designed for educators working with students that are about 9-12 years old (in grades 3-6, depending on the country). For older students, you may want to consider the award-winning Engineering Inspired by Nature curriculum for middle and high school students.


Other great resources for exploring Nature-inspired innovation in primary school:

Simple hands-on activities

Further reading


“This unit was fun because it was a little challenging…what was most interesting for me was how it changed how I think of nature, because now when I observe something in nature I start to think about how we could apply that to human life.”

Estelle, 5th grader

Sean D., a 5th grader from Houston, conceived, prototyped, and tested this jacket inspired by his cat. On cold days, cats puff up their fur, trapping warm air next to their bodies. Likewise, on cold days, you blow more air into the jacket; on warmer days, you deflate it.

Eliza H., a 3rd grader from New York, wanted to help her grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Her design concept is a pair of slippers that leave a trail, like snails do, to help her grandmother find her way around the house. Nature-inspired inventing gives young people an opportunity to be creative and compassionate, while developing analogical thinking skills.

A team of students from West Branch, Michigan, works together on the design of a water filter inspired by wetland cattails.