Imagine you’re a high school teacher…
You’re a Science 9 teacher and mandated to meet vague, varied curriculum guidelines, but the textbooks are out-dated and the subject matter is dry. You want to bring the course to life and you want to draw real-world connections, so you decide to use Nature Labs – its unit plans and accompanying lessons – to help you integrate new teaching strategies.
Before your class, you enter the Nature Labs portal and immediately see that you can register as a teacher or a student and by logging into the teacher section and selecting your course, you are able to view the unit plan and gain a birds-eye view of the lessons, the content and how the students will use the platform.
What catches your eye is that Nature Labs has an element of self-directed studies, with students being given the chance to spend the unit learning through the story of one animal, one that resonates with them. You love that each story can be viewed in class or as a homework assignment and that the introductory story is specific to your course and the unit you’re about to teach.
In exploring the resources available to you within your unit, you find a series of ten lesson plans that allow you to cover all of the required subject matter. The best part? You can mix and match the most relevant lessons to your classroom situation – meaning that you can use all ten or just three, ensuring it’s reactive to your timeline and scheduling needs. Each lesson is equipped with its own activity and each activity moves the students closer to a unit-end challenge project that helps them apply all of the knowledge they’ve acquired throughout the unit.
Comprehensive Unit and Lesson Plans
You’ve decided on lesson one: Animal biology. Each student, you see, will have an image of their animal as the background for their digital ecosystem. As the students move their mouse across the image and clicks on highlighted terms, small content pieces open to explore the concepts. What will really help the students learn is the fact they can select the type of media they want to learn through – writing, video or a mix of info-graphics.
The second lesson you’ll deliver will help the students dive deeper into the unit’s themes, and unlock a new section for the students within their digital classroom. Want to explore habitat dynamics and how all of their animals interact with one another? Well, because your school is part of Nature Labs Premium, you’ve requested a virtual field trip, allowing the students to be transported into the landscape in real time and ask questions of experts. You’re the guide for students as Nature Labs enables them to embrace inquiry-based learning.
You want the next lesson to connect to real world issues so that students understand that ‘their’ animal is really a metaphor for Canadian biodiversity and that the story they have been learning through relates to stories in your home community. The specifically curated content developed by Nature Labs allows students to draw these connections and explore the different sides of the debate, while thinking critically about what the lessons from this unit mean in action.
You love that an activity can stretch a lesson across multiple days, and that enables you to now transition their newly cultivated critical thought and apply it to solution making. Using GIS online mapping tools (Geographic Information Systems), students can map the territory of their animal and how habitat impacts social dynamics, food sources and corridor routes. This develops a sense of empathy for the complexity of the situation facing their animal, as they see how it could come into conflict with people. You task them to balance the science and come up with a plan for how they’d handle the problem.
The Challenge Project
Of course, this is a precursor for their challenge project that will come next – a chance for them to bring everything together and apply the lessons to solution-make for a biodiversity challenge in your community. You appreciate that students are encouraged to use different media formats to present their project and aren’t worried about the challenges of grading because Nature Labs has provided you with supplemental worksheets, rubrics & materials that are printable or available for use online, making the entire process seamless. Moreover, if you encounter a problem, you know you can use the on-demand professional development assistance to trouble-shoot the scenario. And if your students need a hand? A virtual homework helper can be emailed.
Cross Curricular Connections
Nature Labs has also helped renew that idea you and your colleague had to team teach – you’ve wanted to see cross-curricular integration of subject matter, but neither of you had the time to make it work. Yet with seven other teachers in four other subjects also using Nature Labs, you realize interdisciplinary connections are already being fostered. The self-selected introductory stories the students are viewing are almost like chapters of a larger narrative – when viewed in each course, they work together without being repetitive.
But you’re most impressed with the digital classroom. When students sign in during a different course, it instantaneously expands and physically draws the connections between the subjects. And that project they worked on for your course? It now provides the foundation for their unit challenge project in English. And the image they been using to dissect and learn about their animal? It’s now inspiring an outstanding piece of art that will demonstrate the importance of that animal’s biology. That knowledge they gained about population units using GIS mapping? That now informs their political research challenge project in Social Studies, which will only enhance their original concept and give them a better chance of winning the mentorship scholarship. And you know that several students in your class would excel if given the chance to see their idea come to fruition alongside a team of experts.
The time you’ve saved in developing your unit and lesson plans has given you more time to work one-on-one with students and given you a greater sense of how to communicate with their needs and ensure they’re getting the most out of your course. You’re excited to share your experiences with other teachers and see how it evolves, because you know it’s a living prototype, one that will change with current events and the natural arc of the lives of the animals it showcases. The fact you can give Nature Labs feedback to help it grow and reach new heights is heartening, because this is a platform you want to use again and again.