California State Parks has connected more than 500,000 students to state parks via virtual field trips since 2004. The grassroots program known as Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students (PORTS) engages underserved students by creating equitable digital access to state parks at no cost to schools, teachers, or students.
Since 2004, this innovative distance-learning program has provided live interactive videoconference sessions to expand learning beyond the classroom walls. K-12 students from California and around the world connect with live interpretive staff and learn academic content standards within the context of California’s dynamic State Park System. From the mountains, deserts, and beach parks, to urban parks and historic sites, students have real-world experiences with California’s natural and cultural resources while interacting with a park expert in real time.
“For many of these students, it is the first time getting a glimpse of the giant redwoods or touring a gold rush ghost town. Our virtual field trips are intended to give students that have limited access to our parks the opportunity to engage with our expert staff and help deepen the learning experience within, and beyond the classroom environment,” said California State Parks director Lisa Mangat. “By doing so, California State Parks is also helping to empower a community of global citizens that will inherit the responsibility of protecting our open spaces and culturally significant places. It is a tremendous effort by our partners and interpretive staff who coordinate with educators to showcase what our unique state parks offer.”
PORTS presentations are individually delivered from one of 20 different California state parks, to one classroom at a time providing personalized learning experiences every session. Over 16,000 live videoconference sessions have been presented to students in the past 15 years.
Educators that employ the PORTS Program are creating an online community of park supporters. Educators surveyed recently gave the program the highest marks for satisfaction and expressed that the resource is an important way to provide real-world examples of natural and cultural resource concepts for students. This level of success and satisfaction has created a dedicated user base of teachers that return year after year to connect their students to California’s state parks.
With the constant onboarding of instructional technologies in the classroom, the number of students provided digital access to parks continues to grow every year. To ensure that resources are provided at no charge to schools, the PORTS Program has created a number of partnerships with nonprofits and private industry organizations that focus on services and resources for K-12 education. Save the Redwoods League, Microsoft Education, Google Expeditions, Smithsonian Learning Lab, Flipgrid, and Zoom Video Communications all play a role in providing PORTS products and services.
This month, PORTS was announced as the recipient of Zoom Video Communications Environmental Impact Award for their work in K-12 education and public outreach pertaining to global environmental issues.
To learn how schools, classrooms, or organizations can participate, visit ports.parks.ca.gov.