Technology has many uses in today’s classrooms. Virtual field trips and experiments have been around for some time now. They allow students to see and watch things that are not possible in the typical classroom. However one program has set a higher standard for the meaning of virtual field trip.
Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students (PORTS) in California has made it possible for students not only to see the sites at the various state parks but to also interact with a real park ranger.
The students in over 700 classrooms alone last year got to experience wildlife and artifacts from all across California’s great state parks. By watching on a large screen they could see the park ranger interact with hermit crabs and jelly fish as well as ask any questions that might arise.
The service provided by PORTS is free to the schools but does require some special equipment on the teacher’s part. The schools must have a high speed Internet connect, a screen for viewing, and a camera for conferencing.
Some criticize the program for taking the hands-on experience of a real field trip away from the students. While many would agree that seeing these things in person would be better, it is also acknowledged that some of these trips are impossible to physically take. Many schools have cut back on trips due to higher standards and NCLB. A shortage of funds also makes it difficult to travel to various locations. In addition some of these areas would be too dangerous for students to see in person.
The students seem to really enjoy the sites that they can see and the interaction with the park ranger. The teachers are thrilled to be able to give the students an experience that otherwise would never have been possible in most cases.