Become a patron on Patreon for Nature Labs. Join us now!
Nature Labs is a virtual high school textbook. Built on a foundation of storytelling, we provide teachers with plug-and-play, inquiry-based resources to help students use nature as a real-world example of class lessons in order to advance nature literacy.
How Nature Labsworks
Imagine the wonder of a science centre brought to life online in every high school classroom and enhanced by cross-disciplinary master classes in citizenship, with nature acting as the common starting point for learning. Now imagine the expensive, outdated textbook being replaced with an immersive virtual experience that is relatable and responsive to the world where students live, with information being updated in real-time. All of this? Brought together with balanced storytelling that blends 60 Minutes fundamentals with the pacing of Vice or Juice Media and the visuals of National Geographic to create the kind of multi-media content needed to spark a passion.This is Nature Labs.
Our online classroom is enhanced by unit and lesson plans designed by a teacher for teachers to ensure every aspect of the platform is curriculum-connected and plug-and-play, delivering what educators actually need. Nature Labs aims to make education more effective, creating time for teachers to work one-on-one with students, while providing students with the tools to transform their lessons into projects to better their community and the natural world.
Why nature literacy matters
Why? From climate change to the biodiversity crisis, the environmental discourse is polarized and overly simplistic. And little effort is being made to tackle the root problem: a society that lacks an understanding of nature and is increasingly unwilling to learn from differing viewpoints. Too few have a connection to the land and, far more troubling, even fewer have been schooled in the relationship between nature and climate change, cultural diversity, healthy communities and a strong economy.We believe that a generational shift is needed in our understanding and appreciation for nature and that 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 affordable, virtual experiences – fortified by curriculum-connected resources – that can help students appreciate that we’re a world of ecosystems, inclusive of the communities they house.
Our goal: We don't want to create a new generation of activists. We want to help every student act with a foundation of nature literacy in all that they do. In succeeding, we can help enhance critical thinking skills that are necessary to create a thoughtful citizenry and a more creative workforce - one that strives to find a better balance between the needs of people and nature.
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 story of three grizzly bears...
Chocolate was the dominant bear in the Rocky Mountain ecosystem of Mount Robson – until he was hit by a semi-trailer. With an injured back, he used swimming as a tool to ease his pain and navigate a landscape increasingly littered by roads and railways and pipelines. He succeeded until the day he couldn’t cross the railway fast enough to avoid a train. His last surviving offspring? Two bears – a male and female – who, despite conventional wisdom, refused to separate after being run off by their mother. For three years, instead of becoming competitors, these bears have spent every waking second together – grazing, hunting, denning. Playing. They’ve learned to survive in an increasingly complex world for large carnivores by helping each other thrive. This is not just a story about an indicator species. It’s a visual metaphor for our relationship with nature: fragile, yet resilient. It’s also a metaphor for how we can find a better balance in a changing world: by working with each other – with unlikely allies in unlikely circumstances – we can find new solutions to old problems.
The story unfolds across the lessons in each of the five courses fundamental to understanding the interconnectivity of nature and decision-making: Science, Socials, Language, Art and Career. The lessons connect outward from the lives of the bears and the ecosystem they call home, to the larger issues that shape their world and ours. As students explore curriculum requirements like career trends, the food chain and policy-making, their teachers are not only the bears, but also 150 diverse citizens – from former prime ministers to top chefs – whose daily choices affect our entire society, including the bears.
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.
By the end of Nature Labs, students will connect the story of these bears to global issues and back to the communities where they live. They’ll understand the relevance of the lessons they’ve learned and how they relate to current events, good citizenship and their future career. And by showcasing the importance of listening and empathizing with those we might disagree with, we can help students think more critically and act more creatively – for people and for nature – today and tomorrow.
This is Nature Labs.
When we listen, learn and act, anything is possible.It’s this enduring belief that inspired us – Jill Cooper, an accomplished educator, and Simon Jackson, an award-winning storyteller – to spend a decade documenting the remarkable stories of Canada’s biodiversity and the communities and peoples it sustains. Through our journey, we’ve travelled from Clyde River and Assiniboia to Victoria and Toronto – and everywhere in-between – to listen to what everyday citizens think about nature and understand their vision for the future. Our takeaway? Nature can unite us all. By making the seemingly irrelevant relevant, it’s possible to showcase that nothing is black and white and, through better education, a more thoughtful and engaged citizenry is possible – one that intrinsically understands that nature matters; that every decision matters. And that we must find a way to work together. In 2018, we launched Ghost Bear Institute – a federally registered non-profit – to act on what we heard and help bridge the gap we found in education and in our society. With the focused goal of incubating Nature Labs, Ghost Bear Institute hopes to build a non-advocacy, balanced, scalable, sustainable platform for education. If successful, our hope is to find a long-term, non-partisan home for Nature Labs, allowing us to dissolve the Ghost Bear Institute umbrella. After all, we don’t need more institutions unless it proves absolutely necessary. In building Nature Labs, we have purposefully avoided sponsorships and grants that might create a real or perceived bias in the eyes of one school district or another. We have built both our model and our content around extensive research and community consultation, inclusive of diverse politics, cultures, geography, age and expertise. And our ability to come as far as we have is because of our growing community of champions on Patreon and the support of Nikon, the University of Calgary's Werklund School of Education and, most notably, North America’s third largest park system, BC Parks, who has enabled us to anchor our stories in the iconic Mount Robson Provincial Park. Our goal is to have the platform ready for high schools in 2022. We project that the program will be financially self-sufficient within one year of being fully launched and that scaling will gradually commence in the years to follow (countries, languages, grades and courses).
What doessuccess look like?
Thousands of conversations with people from all walks of life, an emerging community of 20,000 supporters and continuous feedback from over 400 students, teachers and community stakeholders has shaped Nature Labs’ vision.In the next decade alone, more than 4 million students will go through grade ten in Canada. 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 will be spent using this platform to learn and foster a deeper understanding of why nature matters and how addressing our shared challenges can unite us all.
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.
Watch Nature Labs' progress...
Visit our Instagram story to see what we've been up to during the development phase of Nature Labs.
Join Simon & Jill on Patreon!
Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes as we work to build Nature Labs?Jill and Simon are the quirky - yes, let's call them quirky - storytellers behind the non-profit Ghost Bear Institute, a growing international community that believes balanced storytelling can unleash the type of creative thinking needed to better balance the needs of people and nature. Sometimes serious and often ridiculous, we invite you to join us on a journey unlike any other… ...Into one of the most spectacular ecosystems in Canada’s Rocky Mountains to learn how a dominant grizzly bear thrives with a partially paralyzed hind leg. …Into the boardroom of one of the world's most successful entrepreneurs to learn what nature means to Jimmy Pattison, and into the kitchen of Canada’s most innovative chef, Marc Lepine, as he demonstrates why his food tells nature’s stories. …Into the minds of a couple who are risking everything (Will we have a home in a year? Who knows! No more normal food, just meal bars (and pizza) to save money! Who needs razor handles to shave - let’s cut that too!) to build a vision we hope can help change the world. We want to share with you EXCLUSIVE images from the field. We want to bring you virtually into the field to experience what we experience and learn alongside us. We want to give you an unfiltered, unglamorous look at what it takes to bring a new idea to life: A former high school teacher learns programming and audio! The kid who tried to save the spirit bear learns to drive (maybe)! Two married people try living in a tent for three months (again)! A non-profit discovers how little funding exists for non-partisan storytelling (hint: none)! We know where we want to go, but we don’t know how many twists and turns still await us. And we know we can’t do it alone. But in joining with us, we can stumble along this path together - and laugh about it! - as we try to do our part to create a better world.
Simon & Jill