Ocean School, the result of a partnership between the National Film Board of Canada and the Ocean Frontier Institute at Dalhousie University is inspiring the next generation to take action in protecting our oceans.
WATERTODAY reached out to Ocean School’s Education Producers about the free educational platform designed to push the boundaries of learning and responsibility.
WT: What is Ocean School? What is your approach? Your mission?
Heather& Emily: Ocean School is a free environmental education resource for students grades 5-12. Our inspiring and immersive multimedia resources - featuring linear and 360° videos, VT/AR, interactive media, hands-on projects, and activities - are offered in English and French. Our cross-curricular content spans science, social studies, language arts and more!
Our goal is empowerment through action-driven inquiry-based learning, to bring about environmental and social change. Placing local issues at the forefront of student projects allows for the development of transferable skills later in life.
We wish to provide a real sense of agency. Every one of us can help shape a common future that includes a healthy and productive ocean.
WT: Heather, as an Education Producer, what is involved?
Heather: I do a lot of different things, including steering the educational objectives of the content we create and guiding the design of the media to optimize learning. I love imagining simulations and designing engaging activities.
WT: Emily, you are also an Education Producer, what is your role?
Emily: Each project has at least one media producer, science producer, and education producer on the creative team working together to shape stories and themes. The education producer is there to advocate for learners and educators.
We identify key messages and issues teachers are hoping to address in the classroom and ensure that those messages are easy for kids to follow.
We create interactive media as well as activities and projects that build on the information presented in the media. We also create educator guides that are available on our help center. Teachers also give feedback on our materials and proposed content in our meetings with them.
I am responsible for making sure that our website features meet the needs of our users. A big project for us for the past year has been making our materials more accessible for people with visual and hearing impairments
WT: Heather, you started out as a classroom teacher in England and the Bahamas. How did you make the leap from the classroom to Ocean School?
Heather: When I was teaching, I felt there was a gap in technology integration, and wanted to figure out how to do it better.
This led me to a master’s degree in educational technology.
My mind was blown by all the opportunities in education outside the classroom.
After graduating, I spent four years as an Education Specialist at Equitas-International Center For Human Rights Education before joining Ocean School.
Ocean School is my dream job bringing together my love of teaching, the environment, instructional design, and production.
WT: And Emily, what was the journey that brought you to Ocean School?
Emily: I am a tech nerd. I started my career as a cognitive psychology researcher, studying how people process digital information. I received a master's in educational technology –which is where I first met Heather!
After working with some folks on games and simulations and at a few educational start-ups as an instructional designer/ producer for STEM-themed educational interactive web and mobile apps I again met up with Heather in 2018.
I wanted to be involved with the projects Heather was doing at Ocean School. My work brings together my passions—creativity, learning, design, and science.
WT: How are NFB and Dalhousie University involved?
Emily: NFB and Dalhousie were founding partners of the project. Our executive producer and most of the media production team are based at NFB. Our scientific director and most of the science team are based at Dalhousie.
Our Team is spread out in Halifax, Moncton, Montreal, and Toronto. We produce content all over Canada.
WT: You are also reaching international audiences.
Emily: We just launched the Biodiversity Collection that we shot in Indonesia and Australia focusing on the importance of coral reefs, and resilience to climate change.
We shared early versions of our materials with teachers in Indonesia. It was so exciting to see our content reach folks internationally!
WT: What are you most proud of?
Heather & Emily: We have an obligation to encourage reflection on the historical and current relationships that we have with the lands and waters that we are bringing to the classrooms. That means showing contemporary and Indigenous perspectives and sharing stories that many kids have never heard of.
We are proud of The Harvest which we made with the Heiltsuk in Bella Bella, British Columbia. The collection celebrates the reciprocal relationship between the herring and salmon – a relationship that’s over 14,000 years old.
We started the project without a production plan, meeting with the community several times for feedback, language integration and activity design. Just last week we returned to Bella Bella to celebrate the completion of the collections with a screening of the films and an activity in the school.
The content has just been nominated for a Nature Inspiration Award
Heather: Another recent project is a collaboration with the Hakai Institute of Marine Science that explores a landslide in 2020 caused by climate change. The event impacted the salmon in Homalco First Nation Territory. The collection will include a video about the Homalco Nation created by students at Timberline Secondary School.
WT: What’s next?
Heather & Emily: We have over 20 projects on the go right now. In a few months, we will be publishing some collections about the history and impact of plastic on the oceans and waterways.
We have a collaboration with the River Institute in Cornwall, Ontario, to produce an augmented reality interactive about climate change and invasive species in the Saint Lawrence River. This collaboration is supported by GenAction, which aims to create youth action heroes!
We are also developing a larger collection focused on the Saint Lawrence River, looking at its importance in marine transportation but also the ecosystem.
Projects focused on the impact of climate change on the east coast with Inuit communities in Nunatsiavut, and on the west coast with Homalco Nation in Campbell River, are also up next.
Emily: It is so important that students have access to digestible, scientifically accurate information about the challenges that climate change is bringing about in the ocean. We want young people to understand what is happening to the ocean, but also to bring them hope. There are solutions to the threats posed by climate change, and every young person can be part of that change. Teachers and students can learn more here