Nature Labs

Powerful storytelling + innovative education = environmental literacy

There he was. Bear 126, one of Canada’s most iconic grizzlies, wrestling with bear 142 in a field of wildflowers as the sun rose on a new Rocky Mountain day.

Was it a fight over food or territory? No. In fact, it wasn’t a fight at all. Bears, we’re always told, are anti-social creatures, vicious and aloof. Yet in the early days of August – long removed from mating season – these two bruins are not only tolerating each other, but are engaging in what can only be described as play, undoing decades of accepted knowledge in the process.

Was it the by-product of a bumper berry crop? What role did the national park – the good and the bad – have on their behaviour? Is it possible we don’t know as much as we think we do about these icons of the high alpine? And, if we have more to learn, what can they teach us about biodiversity and our role in safeguarding the systems that sustain us?

This is Nature Labs.

Impactful and immersive storytelling brings to life an innovative digital ecosystem of curated resources designed for inquiry-based, exploratory learning. Across four subjects, Nature Labs uses biodiversity as a real-world example of course lessons in order to strengthen interdisciplinary education and foster a new generation of environmentally literate citizens.

Why?

Canada’s natural inheritance is unparalleled, but safeguarding our biodiversity is not without its challenges. Canada’s 2020 Biodiversity Goals, a bipartisan objective, aims to tackle this problem, but the task is daunting with the discourse surrounding the environment becoming increasingly polarized and overly simplistic. To overcome a citizenry who are overwhelmed, misinformed and apathetic, we must heal the wounds that divide and that starts by equipping teachers with the tools to deconstruct the complex and enliven the obscure. After all, education is the most cost-effective means of creating a new generation that understands and appreciates the value of nature – and thinks critically about how Canada can create a better balance between people and the environment.

How?

Existing curricula in every province provides for learning intersections with biodiversity, but current resources are mostly biased, dry or out-dated. Nature Labs uses the grade nine guidelines for Science, English, Social Studies and Art to equip teachers with unit and lesson plans that use biodiversity as the lens, each being enhanced by student-selected learning vehicles or stories and all being underpinned by thoughtful, diverse multi-media content designed for all learning styles.

Each unit plan can be used independently or concurrently with different teachers from other courses, creating seamless and intuitive classroom integration. Lesson plans will be enhanced by daily updates, ensuring that Nature Labs is a living prototype and responsive to current events and teacher needs. And through Nature Labs Premium, schools will have the option of evolving the offering with class-customized lessons, community-specific content linkages, live and interactive virtual presentations, virtual class field trips, on-demand professional development for teachers, and virtual homework help for students.

With Nature Labs, teachers will gain plug-and-play resources that develop their capacity, enable no-fuss interdisciplinary education and deliver on the often-vague, ministry-driven guidelines. Students will use their own interests to drive learning outcomes and, by leveraging inquiry-based and experiential education, they will be able to foster a sense of ownership for their natural inheritance and have the competency to solution-make for a better world.

<b>How?

Imagine you're a grade 9 student...

Today, in science class, your teacher introduces a new unit. Together with your peers, you enter the Nature Labs online portal, but rather than learning through a unified text, you each get to choose a story – an animal – through which you want to learn. Your best friend selects the quirky Rocky River bighorn sheep herd. But bears speak to you and you decide on the story of grizzly bear 126.

Immediately you’re transported into this animal’s world, being taken on a narrative-driven, multi-media journey – through the lens of your subject – that immerses you into the life of 126, a metaphor for Canadian biodiversity. This more-than-a-documentary brings your animal to life through a mix of video and writing and imagery and makes you rethink what you know about this species and the interconnectedness of your animal to those animals your peers have chosen to learn through. Most importantly, you understand the unit you’re about to study is more than just dry definitions; you understand its real-world connection.

As you leave your story, you enter into your own online ecosystem, a place where resources have been curated for you to explore and learn about the themes of today’s lesson; a place that will be your home for the duration of the unit. Unlike your one-dimensional textbook, you realize this digital classroom appeals to the different learning styles of everyone around you: Info-graphics and detailed maps, media videos and articles with analysis, podcast-style interviews with experts, and interactive virtual presentations and field trips all help relate your animal back to the overarching class lesson. What you love most is that this platform is like the social media world you live in, with the material provided being constantly updated before your eyes, relating the subject matter to what it means to your animal and its home – and how that relates to your community and to your world – not a year ago or even yesterday, but today.

Each class, as your teacher unveils the lesson (a research assignment, a topic tutorial, term definitions, current event analysis, a class discussion or debate), you realize that your learning is building toward a cumulative challenge project, a chance for you to think critically about the impact you and your peers are having on biodiversity in Canada. What you love most is that while your project must fit within the course parameters, you’re free to innovate and no one is telling you what to think or believe, so long as you can defended your concept.

Since your school subscribes to Nature Labs Premium, you see that your digital ecosystem is expanding to create specific links between bear 126 and issues in your hometown. In exploring the resources, you identify a common theme – the challenge of living with wildlife – and you land on an idea that takes the lessons you’ve learned in this unit and integrates them with your skills and passion. Your project outlines how the development of an app that leverages real-time data from the radio collar of a bear in your community could be used to help people stay out of the animal’s way, without disrupting your town’s way of life. For your work, you get an A and your teacher enters it into a competition to compete with your peers to win a Nature Labs mentorship scholarship that will develop the best concept with the help of a team of national experts.

A month later, in English class, a new unit is introduced that also uses Nature Labs. You’re worried it will be redundant, but quickly discover that the immersive journey into the life of 126 is completely different – it’s like a different chapter of the same story, this one using English as the lens. Your digital ecosystem? It’s the same as the one in Science, but now it has evolved to unlock new content specific to English, with each lesson helping you understand the parallels between the courses. And when the time comes for the challenge project, you have the choice to develop a new idea or evolve the one you’ve already submitted, enhancing your innovation with the new subject’s parameters.

Nature Labs has made learning fun and interesting, but mostly it has helped you connect the dots between your classroom lessons and the real world; between nature and human impact; between you and your planet.

Nature Labs is built on a credible, proven track record.

For seven years, an accomplished educator – Jill Cooper – and an award-winning storyteller – Simon Jackson – have immersed themselves in the Canadian landscape, documenting the remarkable stories of Canada’s biodiversity through GhostBearPhotography.com, an online community that connects over 20,000 people. Throughout their journey, they’ve travelled to small town Saskatchewan and big city Toronto and everywhere in-between to share their tales and to listen to what young Canadians think about nature. Their takeaway: Nature unites us all and that by making the seemingly irrelevant relevant, it’s possible to showcase that nothing is black and white and through better education, a more thoughtful citizenry is possible.

Jill Cooper understands the real-world challenges facing today’s schools.

21st Century education might be the buzzword, but creating inquiry-based, project-style, exploratory learning with ever-changing technology in a resource-strapped system – especially in rural communities – is almost impossible without partners. For a decade, Jill worked to create connections between technology and nature as a high school geography and media arts teacher and when she found resource gaps, she worked to fill them. Having advised the development of education resources for organizations such as the Jane Goodall Institute and having helped create cutting-edge teacher and student programs for the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and the 10th World Wilderness Congress, Jill understands how to develop innovative programming from development to curriculum integration to classroom implementation. Jill’s unique insight is at the heart of Nature Labs’ design and what ensures this platform is both useful and used – for only a teacher knows what a teacher needs.

<h3><font color="000000"><b>Jill Cooper understands the real-world challenges facing today’s schools.
<h3><font color="000000"><b>Simon Jackson understands what captivates young minds.

Simon Jackson understands what captivates young minds.

For two decades, starting at the age of 13, he built the largest youth-run environmental network in the world – the six million-strong, Spirit Bear Youth Coalition – to bring balance to a divisive issue and empower young people to create a solution that could save Canada’s white Kermode or spirit bear. And they did. Having wrapped up his organization, Simon – who has been honoured by Time Magazine as one of sixty Heroes for the Planet and inspired CTV’s movie Spirit Bear: The Simon Jackson Story – has travelled coast-to-coast-to-coast to share the lessons from his journey, as his powerful story is a reminder that one person can make a difference. Indeed, Simon’s storytelling ability, combined with his extensive relationships with schools and Canadian community leaders, is the foundation on which Nature Labs is built.

But why will Nature Labs succeed?

During the 2018-2019 school year, Nature Labs will visit more than 350 high schools across Canadian communities large and small, reaching 250,000 students through full-school assemblies and securing the participation of hundreds of classrooms and thousands of students for the first full year of the program in 2019-2020. This base will grow with the ability to engage environmental education networks and teacher specialty associations, in addition to traditional marketing through educator conferences and media outreach, furthering the brand’s exposure to more than a half million before day one.

With a team that credibly combines skills, passion and experience and a platform that has the ability to meaningfully engage hundreds of thousands of students in the first year of its existence, Nature Labs can succeed in creating a viable, affordable model for tackling a national objective that is not being met, while simultaneously bridging a gap in curricula delivery. The potential for increasing teacher capacity while furthering student competencies is clear, but so too is the opportunity to establish a true sense of shared ownership of the issues we collectively face as Canadians and, in the doing, establish the space for re-imaging a better world for all life.

Want to learn more? Contact us!