The iconic giant sequoia are pillars of strength and endurance, symbols of conservation and hope, and living teachers on the importance of legacy. Students from around the world can have the opportunity to learn about these incredible trees through the distance learning program at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. For thousands of years, the giant sequoia have made their home on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada and their unique story of survival is brought to life with video conferencing technology like Skype and Zoom.
This is made possible with digital field trips to see Calaveras Big Trees through the free Parks Online Resources for Teachers & Students (PORTS) program offered by California State Parks. In the span of an hour, students are transported to the coniferous forest community that surrounds the giant sequoia during an immersive and interactive field trip. The virtual field trips are designed to help K-12 educators teach Next Generation Science Standards in the context of California State Parks and increase science and conservation literacy in the classroom, ultimately creating the future environmental stewards of our natural world.
The ultimate goal of the giant sequoia program is to expose the wonders and challenges of these incredible trees to K-12 students while expanding their knowledge and interest not only in the giant sequoia, but also in the diverse natural and cultural treasures found in California’s state parks. Most teachers have compared the Calaveras Big Trees field trip to physically being in the park and going on a real nature walk because the technology is that clear. The beauty of the experience is that they don’t ever have to leave the school yet can expand their classroom by breaking down barriers to park access like timing constraints and expensive bus funding.
For the 2018-19 school year, the program was launched with the momentum of the Save the Redwoods League Centennial celebration. Since then, the giant sequoia has touched the hearts of more than 13,000 students in 11 countries and 41 states. California students from public and private sectors spanned 16 counties and 25 school districts, totaling 56% of all field trips combined. The outreach possibilities are vast, as students get to truly experience their parks without borders by utilizing the power of technology in a meaningful way.
Educators speak to the quality of the program:
“This virtual field trip and your knowledge is by far my favorite. The enthusiasm is infectious and inspires curiosity. Thank you so much.”
-S.H. – Calabash Charter Academy, Woodland Hills, CA
“PORTS and its highly skilled rangers provide exceptional real-time interactions with students. Student engagement is off-the-charts successful and leads to deeper learning immediately. The process is simple to facilitate, and the returns are immense. Ranger Jenny easily engages the students. She is an expert at delivering content for the 1st grade audience. I loved how she was able to answer questions just like we were on the trail with her. She is an expert at extending student learning with probing questions.”
-K.P. – Herman Leimbach Elementary, Elk Grove Unified
“I can’t thank you enough for the awesome experience you gave my students last Friday. Such an amazing way to bring us together. The kids asked on Monday if we could "call you up and see what you were doing!" They all enjoyed it so much and they are begging me to find more field trips for them. Even my principal sat in on the 2nd class and was so impressed! Just wanted to pass all that on to you as it was amazing!!”
-Kelly – Merrill Area Public Schools, Wisconsin.
Educators can sign up for this free program by visiting ports.parks.ca.gov. Calaveras Big Trees is one of 25 virtual field trip offerings from California State Parks.