Picture this. A kayak bobs on the gentle waves in the midst of a giant kelp forest. Nearby a raft of sea otters groom themselves as they float placidly anchored in the kelp. “Why do they have such dense fur?” a student asks. “What might be the benefits of a thick fur coat in the ocean?” the state park interpreter bobbing in the kayak inquires of the students sitting in their classroom thousands of miles away. Interactive videoconference programs like this happen every day through the California State Parks PORTS (Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students)™ Program.
PORTS is a free distance learning program designed to connect K-12 students in their classrooms to the wonderful resources preserved and protected in California State Parks in a meaningful and engaging way. Want to bring in a content specialist to talk with your students about ecosystems but you don’t know who? The PORTS program places those content specialists at your fingertips virtually. Students can converse directly, in real-time, with a state park interpreter at one of ten state parks. Through the engaging and interactive PORTS programs students get to see and apply their classroom lessons to a real world scenario.
With the advancement of mobile videoconferencing technology PORTS is stepping up its game to connect K-12 students to California’s state parks. One way we are doing this is by moving outside the confines of the green screen studio and to videoconference with your students directly from the park resource. Students can converse with a state park interpreter standing in next to a giant redwood tree at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, kneeling next to a tide pool at Crystal Cove State Park, walking between rows of metal bunks at the US Immigration Station in Angel Island State Park, or paddling in a kayak in Whaler’s Cove at Point Lobos State Reserve just to name a few of the PORTS mobile locations.
For some students when they participate in a PORTS program this may be the first time they have seen the ocean live or gazed into a forest. Using technology tools like tablets and GoPro cameras to zoom in on natural specimens or historic artifacts, or share scientific data or historic stories, PORTs interpreters can now bring the state park resources directly to the students in a way that encourages critical thinking and analysis.
Another way PORTS is stepping up its game is through its long-time partnership with the K-12 High Speed Network (HSN). PORTS is just a click away now for teachers thanks to the K-12 HSN’s deployment of Vidyo , a cloud-based videoconference bridge system. In the past schools needed stand alone, standards-based
videoconference machines to participate in PORTS. Through Vidyo, teachers can easily connect to a PORTS program with a simple click on a web link we provide using a computer with a web-camera, or a tablet device. With one computer or tablet connected to a display device at the front of a classroom, set up is easy. The hardest part is choosing a PORTS program for your students and a date to videoconference with a live, state park interpreter.
The California State Parks PORTS program is an easy way to bring to life the concepts your students are learning in the classroom. With the advancements in technology and easy connection we are one step closer to bringing California State Parks into your classroom for an engaging and meaningful program. For more information about PORTS visit us on our website at www.ports.parks.ca.gov.
Heather Holm has 15 years of experience in museum education and public history, having worked in various non-profit museums, archives, and California State Parks. Serving as program coordinator in Northern California for the Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students (PORTS) Distance Learning Program Heather is responsible for coordinating and developing relationships in the educational community, and providing professional development trainings on technology for teachers and State Park Interpreters.