curiosity-machine-logo+Iridescent.eps Biobots Unit 1: Communicating with Light

Developed by Iridescent

Grade band: 9-12

Unit Overview

Engineers frequently look to nature for ideas about how to solve problems that animals have already solved.  For example, how does a bird fly?  What is special about the structure of a bird and its actions that allow it to soar through the air?  Can this information be used to build better, bigger, faster airplanes?  Biomimicry applies lessons from nature to replicate solutions and create new objects.  Biorobotics uses biomimicry tools and ideas to create robots or “Biobots.”

Bio•bots was developed by Iridescent. Iridescent develops curriculum that provides opportunities for students of all ages to build engineering projects. The Bio•bots curriculum explores the skills and tools necessary to build a robot inspired by nature, including basic mechanisms, basic circuitry, nature observation skills, and electrical engineering tools. The program was developed in partnership with a roboticist named Ian Ingram. Ian is a trained mechanical engineer as well as an artist, and draws from both fields in his work building robots that communicate with nature.

The unit consists of resources available as Google Documents and some lab freely available by registering at the Curiosity Machine as an educator. You must be logged in order to access the student worksheets and other resources in these labs.

Essential Question

How can the engineering design process (EDP) lead to a solution to a problem or challenge?

“I Can” Statements

I can identify the needs and constraints of a problem dealing with the detailed structure of a systemic issue

I can research a problem dealing with the detailed structure of a systemic issue

I can imagine a possible solution to a problem dealing with the detailed structure of a systemic issue

I can plan how to solve a problem dealing with the detailed structure of a systemic issue

I can create a prototype that solves a problem dealing with the detailed structure of a systemic issue

I can test my prototype that solves a problem dealing with the detailed structure of a systemic issue

I can improve my prototype that solves a problem dealing with the detailed structure of a systemic issue

Implementation Guidance

We have tested this curriculum with middle and high school students in a 16-week afterschool program (which met twice a week) as well as with elementary students during a 3-week summer camp program. This curriculum is designed to be loose in order to give educators and students plenty of freedom to adapt it to their learning environments. We provide a recommendation for lesson order, but want to emphasize that this is a suggestion, and that we encourage educators or program leaders to change it as they see fit. The curriculum provides the basic tools for getting started and for finishing this particular project, but if your students would like to dive deeper into any of these topics, please give them the opportunity. We hope you enjoy building Bio•bots with your students! If you have any questions or concerns, please send us an email to curiosity@iridescentlearning.org and we will be able to help you. We also welcome any feedback you may want to share.

At the end of the unit, you will find how this unit may align with the NYC Department of Education Science scope and sequence Living Environment units on scientific inquiry and humans influence on the environment, NYS Math, Science and Technology (MST) standards, and Next Generation Science Standards. You will also see cross-curricular connections to Common Core ELA/Literacy and Math standards. These connections are provided to help teachers and school leaders make informed decisions about when and where to integrate this unit into the school year.


       Learning Objectives 

       Students Will Be Able To:

Curiosity Machine Supplied  Resources

Curiosity Machine Membership only Resources

School Supplied Materials

Nature Observations

  • Make Macro and Micro Observations of animal and human behaviors related to light and ecosystems
  • Communicate how light is generated
  • Describe human’s interaction with environment
  • Biobots Video (open access)
  • Biobots Teacher Guide
  • Student Biobots Workbook
  • Mighty Machine Lesson plan and worksheet
  • Research Materials (internet, books, local park, zoo)
  • Materials to prototype Mighty Machine, see lesson plan for details
  • notebook

Engineering Design Practices

  • Practice the Engineering Design Process
  • Ideation
  • Create Algorithms and Flowcharts
  • Document results

  • Student Biobots Workbook
  • Algorithm and Flowchart Guide
  • Student Flowchart Guide
  • Ideation Practice Worksheet
  • notebook


  • Communicate how electrical devices work
  • Use Breadboards for prototyping electrical circuits with lights
  • Understand oltage dividers: Resistors, photoresistors, potentiometers
  • No-wire Circuit Lesson Plan  and Worksheet
  • Biobots Workbook
  • Electrical Circuit Teacher Guide
  • Electrical Circuit Student Guide
  • Breadboard Guide
  • Breadboards, LEDs, wires, resistors, photoresistors, potentiometers, battery packs
  • Materials to prototype No-wire circuit,  see lesson plan for details


  • Understand how to program Arduinos
  • Understand Code:  Structure, Functions, and Variables
  • Understand Logic: control structures
  • Log errors and document code
  • CM Arduino programming Videos
  • Student Biobots Workbook
  • Getting Started with Arduino Slides
  • Arduino Teacher Guide
  • Arduino Student Guide
  • Arduino, USB cable
  • Computer with Arduino IDE (students should work in pairs)

Final Project

  • Model an animal or human interaction with light and environmental changes
  • Materials to prototype Final Project
  • Assessment Rubric
  • Student Biobot Workbook

curiosity-machine-logo+Iridescent.eps Biobots Unit 1: Communicating with Light Suggested Lesson Order

Nature Observations


Design Practices

Introduction to Biobots and Engineering Design Practices

  • Evaluate how animals interact with environment
  • Evaluate how animals solve problems that humans also have
  • Introduce students to final project and overview the parts

Inspiration: Use Nature Observations to choose an animal-light interaction or behavior to model

Biobots Inspiration video

Mighty Machines LP and WS

Biobots Teacher Guide

Biobots Student Workbook

Reflections and Assessment Rubric

Lesson 1

  • Introduce Biobots.  
  • Optional Mighty Machine DC

Lesson 2

  • Looking to Nature for Inspiration
  • Defining the Problem

Nature Observations


Design Practices

Inspiration: practice ideation

Learn and Plan: Algorithms

  • Write an algorithm for the behavior you are modeling

Biobots Student Workbook

Algorithm and Flowchart Teacher Guide

Optional Ideation Worksheet:

Lesson 3

Moving from inspiration to planning stage

  • Optional Ideation practice and discussion

  • Choosing an idea for the final project
  • Homework or in class: Create a storyboard and algorithm


Learn: Review Electrical Circuits

  • Use Engineering Design Practices
  • Diagram electrical circuits

Plan: Identify Materials for final project

No-wire circuit- Lesson Plan and Worksheet

Electrical Circuit Teacher Guide

Electrical circuit student guide

Biobots Student Workbook

Lesson 4

Review Electrical circuits

  • Conductive Materials
  • Electrical Circuit Diagrams

Discuss  materials for final projects.


Learn:  Programming an Arduino: LED blink

Arduino Teacher Guide

Arduino Student guide

Getting started with Arduino slides

Lesson 5

Program Arduinos

Circuits Hardware

Learn:  prototype electrical circuits

  • Introduce Breadboards
  • Add LED-breadboard circuit to Arduino
  • Introduce resistors and add to breadboard
  • Diagram electrical circuit

Breadboard guide

Electrical circuit student guide

Electrical Circuit Teacher Guide

Lesson 6

Prototype electrical circuits  with breadboards


Design Practices

Plan: Convert algorithm to a flow chart

  • Introduce control structures: sequence, selection, repetition

Practice with Mini-project:  Create portfolio for LED Blink- algorithm, flowchart, electrical circuit diagram

Algorithm and Flowchart Teacher Guide

Teacher Flowchart Guide and Examples

Student Flowchart Guide

Biobots Student Guide

Lesson 7

Planning for programming and prototyping

Circuits Hardware

Learn: Prototype electrical circuits

Learn:  Programming an Arduino: Two LED blink

  • Add two LEDs to breadboard using one pin
  • Add two LEDs to breadboard and connect to Arduino using two pins, update Sketch to activate second pin

Using Breadboard guide

Electrical circuit student guide

Electrical Circuit Teacher Guide

Biobots Student Guide

Lesson 8

More Arduino programming

Circuits and Motors


Learn:  Programming an Arduino continued:

LED Traffic Lights

LED Flickering Lights

Arduino Teacher Guide

Arduino Student guide

Lesson 9

More Arduino programming

Nature Observations


Design Practices


 Plan: practice Flowcharts

- Draw a flowchart for LED Traffic Lights blink (1)

- Draw a flowchart for your animal behavior (2)

Algorithm and Flowchart Teacher Guide

Student Flowchart Guide

Reflections and Assessment Rubric

Lesson 10

Check in on understanding of skills and concepts

homework/ in class work


Learn:  Voltage dividers

Electrical Circuit Student Guide

Breadboard guide

Electrical Circuit Teacher Guide

Optional Lesson:

 Use photoresistors, potentiometers and buttons  as extension activities


Learn:  Programming an Arduino: where to look for ideas and help

Find other Arduinos functions to control LED behavior

Suggested resources:





Optional Lesson

Explore other Arduino Functions

Nature Observations


Design Practices



Build, Test, Redesign

Review materials and skills available for Final Projects

Discuss criteria and constraints for final projects

Review components of final projects

Biobots Student Workbook

Reflections and Assessment Rubric

Lesson 11-13

Worktime for prototype building and programming


Review Checklist with criteria, constraint table, partner contributions, Components of final project

Nature Observations


Design Practices



Share and Reflect: Final Project

Biobots Teacher Guide

Biobots Student Workbook

Reflections and Assessment Rubric

Lesson 14

Project presentations and reflections


The following standards are reinforced through the implementation of this unit. This unit may support and strengthen students’ proficiency of these standards; however, prior instruction is assumed.

Standards Alignment for LE Unit 1 (Scientific Inquiry) or LE Unit 8 (Human Influences on the Environment)

Unit 1 (Scientific Inquiry)

Scientific explanations are built by combining evidence that can be observed with what people already know about the world. (1.1a)

Learning about the historical development of scientific concepts or about individuals who have contributed to scientific knowledge provides a better understanding of scientific inquiry and the relationship between science and society. (1.1b)

 Science provides knowledge, but values are also essential to making effective and ethical      

decisions about the application of scientific knowledge. (1.1c)

Inquiry involves asking questions and locating, interpreting, and processing information from a variety of sources. (1.2a)

 Inquiry involves making judgments about the reliability of the source and relevance of information. (1.2b)

 Scientific explanations are accepted when they are consistent with experimental and observational evidence and when they lead to accurate predictions. (1.3a)

 All scientific explanations are tentative and subject to change or improvement. Each new bit of evidence can more questions than it answers. This leads to increasingly better understanding of how things work in the living world. (1.3b)

 Well-accepted theories are ones that are supported by different kinds of scientific investigations often involving the contributions of individuals from different disciplines. (1.4a)

One assumption of science is that other individuals could arrive at the same explanation if they had access to similar evidence. Scientists make the results of their investigations public; they should describe the investigations in ways that enable others to repeat the investigations. (3.5a)

Scientists use peer review to evaluate the results of scientific investigations and the explanations proposed by other scientists. They analyze the experimental procedures, examine the evidence, identify faulty reasoning, point out statements that go beyond the evidence, and suggest alternative explanations for the same observations. (3.5b)

Unit 8 (Human Influences on the Environment)

The Earth has finite resources; increasing human consumption of resources places stress on the natural processes that renew some resources and deplete those resources that cannot be renewed. (7.1a)

Natural ecosystems provide an array of basic processes that affect humans. Those processes include but are not limited to: maintenance of the quality of the atmosphere,generation of soils, control of the water cycle, removal of wastes, energy flow, and recycling of nutrients. Humans are changing many of these basic processes and the changes may be detrimental. (7.1b)

Human beings are part of the Earth’s ecosystems. Human activities can, deliberately or inadvertently,alter the equilibrium in ecosystems. Humans modify ecosystems as a result of population growth, consumption, and technology. Human destruction of habitats through direct harvesting, pollution, atmospheric changes, and other factors is threatening current global stability, and if not addressed, ecosystems may be irreversibly affected. (7.1c)

Societies must decide on proposals which involve the introduction of new technologies. Individuals need to make decisions which will assess risks, costs, benefits,and trade-offs. (7.3a)

The decisions of one generation both provide and limit the range of possibilities open to the next generation. (7.3b)

NGSS: (in red)


Crosscutting Concepts

 1. Patterns. Observed patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification, and they prompt questions about relationships and the factors that influence them.

2. Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation. Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. A major activity of science is investigating and explaining causal relationships and the mechanisms by which they are mediated. Such mechanisms can then be tested across given contexts and used to predict and explain events in new contexts.

 3. Scale, proportion, and quantity. In considering phenomena, it is critical to recognize what is relevant at different measures of size, time, and energy and to recognize how changes in scale, proportion, or quantity affect a system’s structure or performance.

 4. Systems and system models. Defining the system under study—specifying its boundaries and making explicit a model of that system—provides tools for understanding and testing ideas that are applicable throughout science and engineering.

5. Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation. Tracking fluxes of energy and matter into, out of, and within systems helps one understand the systems’ possibilities and limitations.

6. Structure and function. The way in which an object or living thing is shaped and its substructure determine many of its properties and functions.

 7. Stability and change. For natural and built systems alike, conditions of stability and determinants of rates of change or evolution of a system are critical elements of study

Science and Engineering Practices:

1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)

2. Developing and using models

3. Planning and carrying out investigations

4. Analyzing and interpreting data

5. Using mathematics and computational thinking

6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)

7. Engaging in argument from evidence

8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Disciplinary Core Idea

Engineering Design

ET S1.A: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems

ET S1.B: Developing Possible Solutions

ET S1.C: Optimizing the Design Solution

HS-ETS1-1. Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.

HS-ETS1-2. Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.

HS-ETS1-3. Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

 HS-ETS1-4. Use a computer simulation to model the impact of proposed solutions to a complex real-world problem within and between systems relevant to the problem.  

Life Science

HS-LS1-2. Develop and use a model to illustrate the hierarchical organization of interacting systems that provide specific functions within multicellular organisms

HS-LS1-3. Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that feedback mechanisms maintain homeostasis.

HS-LS1-5. Use a model to illustrate how photosynthesis transforms light energy into stored chemical energy.


Standard 2 Information Systems

 Key Idea 1: Information technology is used to retrieve, process, and communicate information as a tool to enhance learning.

Key Idea 2: Knowledge of the impacts and limitations of information systems is essential to its effective and ethical use.

Key Idea 3: Information technology can have positive and negative impacts on society, depending upon how it is used.

Standard 6: Interconnectedness: Common Themes

Key Idea 1: Through systems thinking, people can recognize the commonalities that exist among all systems and how parts of a system interrelate and combine to perform specific functions.

Key Idea 2: Models are simplified representations of objects, structures, or systems used in analysis, explanation, interpretation, or design.

Key Idea 3: The grouping of magnitudes of size, time, frequency, and pressures or other units of measurement into a series of relative order provides a useful way to deal with the immense range and the changes in scale that affect the behavior and design of systems.

Key Idea 5: Identifying patterns of change is necessary for making predictions about future behavior and conditions.

Key Idea 6: In order to arrive at the best solution that meets criteria within constraints, it is often necessary to make trade-offs.

Standard 7: Interdisciplinary Problem Solving

Key Idea 1: The knowledge and skills of mathematics, science, and technology are used together to make informed decisions and solve problems, especially those relating to issues of science/ technology/society,consumer decision making, design, and inquiry into phenomena.

Common Core State Standards Connections:



ELA /Literacy

RST .11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video , multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

RST .11-12.8 Evaluate the hypotheses, data, analysis, and conclusions in a science or technical text, verifying the data when possible and corroborating or challenging conclusions with other sources of information.

RST .11-12.9 Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible. (HS-ETS1-1),(HS-ETS1-3)

WHST.9-10.2: Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/experiments, or technical processes.

WHST.9-10.6: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

Mathematics –

MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively

MP.4 Model with mathematics.


Learn more about Biobots and Curiosity Machine Design Challenges at CuriosityMachine.org