Portal to U.S. Parks
Field trips aren’t always an option for schools, for a litany of reasons — cost, location, timing and more. In California, one program brings field trips to students in real time with video conferencing.
California State Parks is expanding its distance-learning program, Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Schools, so that students can visit the parks without leaving their classrooms.
PORTS park rangers facilitate real-time interaction with students, taking them on virtual field trips through 10 California state parks, where they learn about redwood ecology, monarch butterfly migration and historical topics such as the California Gold Rush.
In one field trip, a ranger in a kayak takes students into a kelp forest by using a submerged GoPro camera and video conferencing equipment.
High Impact Virtual Experiences
In the past school year, more than 46,000 students in 100 school districts across California have been privy to more than 1,500 PORTS presentations, including 133 schools in Title 1 or low-income areas. According to the 2015–2016 PORTS Teacher Survey, 88 percent of teachers said the presentation had their students actively engaged.
Students who participated in the program were more focused, and teachers noticed a decline in behavioral issues, says Christine Chun, assistant vice principal of Castlebay Lane Charter Elementary School in Porter Ranch, Calif.
“Virtual field trips offer students unique opportunities to experience things they otherwise may not have and interact with an expert park ranger who is there to help them learn,” Chun says.