Now, imagine you’re one of Canada’s400,000 grade 10 students…
The latest unit your teacher introduces in classdoesn’t begin with a lecture or a textbook, but a story…
…the otter family that gives birth to a paraplegic pup and refuses to let it die…
…the two fox vixens who lose their mates and work together to raise each others kits…
…the grizzly bear sow who adopts her mother’s cubs when she becomes too old to successfully raise them.
Through a virtual platform, the story you’ve chosen unfolds via a mix of video, text and imagery, transporting you into the animal’s home and helping you understand what you’ll be learning in the weeks ahead. The animal? It’s a metaphor for Canada’s biodiversity – the systems that sustain us. The story? It’s an entertaining example of science and social studies brought to life. With politics stripped away, you begin to rethink what you thought you knew and start to understand the interconnectedness of nature, your subjects and society.
As your story ends, your online classroom unfolds – 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 diverse experts and interactive virtual presentations and field trips all help relate your animal back to the overarching class lesson. You can see now that nothing is black and white and you find yourself empathizing with those you thought you disagreed with.
What you love most? This platform is like the social media world you live in, with the material provided being constantly updated in real time, 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 you’re building toward a cumulative challenge project, a chance for you to think critically about how we can better balance the needs of people and nature. And while your project must fit within the course parameters, you know you’re free to innovate and no one is telling you what to think or believe, so long as you can defend your idea. The best project from every class will be submitted to a ‘National Idea Bank’, where each one will inform new thinking and one individual, as selected by a bi-partisan panel of experts, will receive mentorship to continue building the idea.
At the end of the unit, you actually understand how your learning connects to the real world – having gained a sense of ownership of your country and land, better understanding different perspectives and how they intersect, and realizing that you have a role in deciding your future.
This is Nature Labs.
How Nature Labsworks
Nature Labs is a virtual classroom that relies on unbiased storytelling and curated resources to help educators use nature as a real-world lens for cross-curricular lessons. Why? We want to help a new generation better understand the importance of balancing the needs of people and nature.Existing curricula in every province provides links to biodiversity. Nature Labs will begin by providing teachers with unit plans and plug-and-play resources using guidelines for grade 10 Science, English, Social Studies and Art. For students, this means a virtual library of diverse multi-media content that appeals to all learning styles. And by drawing on daily connections between the program’s storytelling, the course subject matter and the real world, Nature Labs will be a living prototype – relevant and responsive to current events. Through Nature Labs Premium (a pay-to-use version of the open source platform) schools can access class-customized lessons, community-specific content, interactive virtual presentations, virtual class field trips and more. The beta version will be tested, with the feedback helping evolve the platform and allowing for a deeper integration of community partners and the addition of more and better content. Once complete, we aim to fully launch Nature Labs across the entirety of the school year, while beginning work to expand the offering with multiple languages, additional grades and new courses.
Why nature literacy matters
The discourse surrounding the environment has become highly divisive and overly simplistic – and little effort is being made to tackle the root of the problem: a society lacking nature literacy and increasingly unwilling to learn from differing viewpoints. Too few people have a personal connection to the land and, far more troubling, even fewer have been schooled in the relationship between nature and cultural diversity, healthy communities and a strong economy.To reverse this trend, it begins with the most cost-effective tool in our tool-kit: education. We need to build on the nature literacy foundation that students acquire in their primary years and create the tools to help students appreciate that we’re a nation of ecosystems – inclusive of the communities they house. Nature literacy can be the link between cultures and beliefs, the catalyst for healthy and active lifestyles and a critical tool in helping students think more wholly, incorporating both logical and emotional functions of the brain. Indeed, nature is more than a lesson; it’s a real-world example of often complex learning and offers a chance for collaborative creativity. Most importantly, nature offers a less-politically charged entry into some of the most challenging issues of our time, offering hope for moving our discourse beyond polarity.
The Ghost Bear Institute (a federally registered non-profit) has been founded exclusively to incubate Nature Labs and to create complimentary programs (including Field Trips and fine art print sales) to support the prototyping process. Our goal is to properly test the concept and develop a scalable, sustainable model enhanced by robust cross-sector collaboration.Indeed, our strong foundation of extensive project research and community consultation showcases the importance of bridging diverse politics, cultures, geography, age and expertise. And in all that we do, we pledge to always avoid bias and partisanship – a barrier that has prevented high school nature education from succeeding.
What doessuccess look like?
Thousands of conversations with Canadians, an emerging community of 15,000 supporters and continuous feedback from over 400 students, teachers and community stakeholders has shaped Nature Labs’ vision. And in working to create a national, unbiased program to tackle nature literacy within the high school grades where there is none, we hope to bridge divides in the pursuit of fostering a more thoughtful discourse.With 4 million youth going through high school in Canada in the next ten years, if just 1000 classrooms - or 25,000 students - in four core subjects participate in at least ten Nature Labs lessons, more than one million hours of time will be spent using this platform to explore and learn, to think critically and propel new thinking. We believe Nature Labs can help hundreds of teachers gain critical resources to deliver better education. We believe Nature Labs can inspire thousands of students to explore a better balance between people and nature. We believe Nature Labs can start to showcase to millions of Canadians the importance of incorporating nature literacy into every facet of life.
Join us and, together, let’s make nature literacy possible.
Who isNature Labs?
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.
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.