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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, but with the focus expanded from just Science to include Art, English and Social Studies as well. Now imagine the expensive, outdated textbook being replaced with an immersive virtual experience that is relatable and responsive to the world where students live, with information being updated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.Envision that all of this is underpinned by balanced storytelling that blends documentary filmmaking and reality TV with magazine-style photography and writing, podcasts, infographics and more 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. And through Nature Labs Premium, schools can access class-customized lessons, community-specific content, interactive virtual presentations, virtual class field trips and so much more. Nature Labs aims to make education more effectual, creating time for teachers to work one-on-one with students and providing students with the tools to transform their lessons into projects to better their community and the natural world.
Why nature literacy matters
The discourse surrounding the environment has become highly divisive and overly simplistic, hurting both the environment and the economy. 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 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 dominant grizzly bear who, despite disabled hind legs, maintains his status by swimming his land...
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.
Ghost Bear Institute (a federally registered non-profit) was founded exclusively to incubate Nature Labs and to create complimentary programs (Patreon and photo art sales) to support the prototyping process.Designed and led by Simon Jackson (Time Magazine’s Hero for the Planet; founded the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition at 13 and led the successful, 6 million-strong youth-driven movement to save the spirit bear) and Jill Cooper (former high school teacher and education program designer), our goal is to create a scalable, sustainable model for education that is enhanced by robust cross-sector collaboration. In our first six months of operation, driven by donations from our growing community of support, we created the necessary base of extensive project research and community consultation, inclusive of diverse politics, cultures, geography, age and expertise. This work led to partnerships with Nikon, the University of Calgary's Werklund School of Education and North America’s third largest park system, BC Parks. And we’re now building our stories starting in the iconic Mount Robson Provincial Park. Our goal is to have the platform ready for high schools in 2021. 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.
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. So join us, won't you?