2020/2021 PORTS On-Demand programs are completely booked!

Even with 16 years of distance learning experience, one year ago, everything changed. PORTS (Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students) evolved it’s award-winning, live, K-12 education videoconference programs to accommodate our new reality: students would not be going into a classroom anytime soon. With a thousand requests for live interactive programs already scheduled, PORTS needed to adapt quickly. Against all odds, PORTS rapidly shifted their thinking. We created a way to make programs designed for in-person classroom engagement, meet students and families where they were: at home. Over the course of 72 hours, PORTS launched free distance-learning opportunities on a public platform, likely the first organization anywhere to do so amidst the unfolding crisis. Through this new interface, students and families were invited to engage, learn, and discover California State Parks from the safety of their home. These new Home Learning Programs were quickly adopted by savvy teachers who recognized the power of PORTS Programs and by families searching for educational online content.

It wasn’t a surprise when teachers quickly wanted more from PORTS once they established their virtual classrooms and connected with their students remotely. They recognized the need for fun and engaging experiences in their new environment and quickly reconnected with a trusted PORTS Presenter (State Park Interpreter) just as they had prior to the disruption. PORTS recognized teachers needed a smooth and user-friendly platform to schedule, facilitate, and evaluate their connection. Again, with the needs of a quickly changing instructional system in mind, PORTS created the infrastructure to handle an increased supply of programs and demand from educators. Introducing PORTS On-Demand. Through the integration of new tools, PORTS On-Demand made it easy for teachers to connect directly to a trusted State Park content expert. While the adjustment to online learning may have been stressful for teachers and students, the ease of which we have been able to bring our parks’ natural, cultural, and historic resources to life in digital classrooms has been a silver lining in this trying time.

When the dust settled on the 2019/2020 school year, PORTS served over 170,000 K-12 students with live synchronous distance learning opportunities. But we didn’t stop there. Over the course of the past year, we’ve doubled our efforts to provide asynchronous opportunities for teachers and students to deepen and extend their learning from PORTS. Interpreters have opened the floodgates by creating more engaging digital content than ever before with hundreds of hours of opportunities to learn online. You can find our resources archived on PORTS YouTube Channel, Flipgrid Discovery Library, our website www.ports-ca.us, and the buck doesn’t stop there. With the new passPORTS project, we hope to integrate these resources to develop customizable, low-prep educational resources for teachers, students, and families wherever they are.

The idea of PORTS Distance Learning was launched in the early 2000’s.

close-up in the intertidal zone

Parker shows a close up in the intertidal zone at Gaviota State Beach.

Jenny Flipgrid

Over 300 topics found in our Flipgrid Discovery Library allow students to connect with park experts anytime.

Explore Sumeg Village

Parker shows a close up in the intertidal zone at Gaviota State Beach.

While it may be cliché to say “it’s been a year,” we have an announcement to make. For first time in our long history, we have no more on-demand programs available for K-12 education! We’re full. Pause for a moment to take the full weight of this statement. Despite what you may think, PORTS is not limited by technology or equipment. Our opportunities simply provide a space for interpreters to develop a relationship with teachers and students. Our connections are live, interactive, engaging, and meaningful conversations between State Park professionals, students and teachers. As trusted sources of information, Interpreters are given a platform to educate the public on issues that matter including climate change, diversity, equity and inclusion, notwithstanding the precious resources we work so hard to protect and preserve not only in California State Parks, but as Californians as well. Our data indicates that by the end of this ever-evolving school year, we will connect with over 250,000 K-12 students by delivering 6,000 individual presentations from over 40 different California State Parks.

Rest assured, we still have a plethora of opportunities for you to connect with our parks. You’ll find resources available on our website and we are broadcasting pre-scheduled Home Learning Programs from now until the end of May, but we’re sorry to say we cannot accommodate any more requests for PORTS On-Demand Programs. Also to note, because PORTS is the nucleus for California State Park digital engagement, we will spearhead the delivery of live streaming events on social media this spring, including an underwater broadcast from Point Lobos State Natural Reserve for World Oceans Day on June 8th.

Like our partner, Zoom Video Communications, we always knew the power of live interactive video connections. And like all of humanity, we are deeply saddened by the circumstances that elevated the status of distance learning. But we have to say, we are grateful for all our partners and connections with K-12 education, families, and the public and we sense their pride in the newfound relationships with California State Parks. As an essential public service for mental health, we are humbled by the opportunity to provide K-12 communities with connections to some of the most beautiful and important places in California.

We’re still looking to evolve as we return to a “new normal” and PORTS is now preparing for the return to in-class instruction and the ultimate return to in-person field trips! We’re making strides to create blended-access opportunities for educators to deepen their learning with live synchronous connections, curated digital explorations, and innovative teaching practices. We hope this will prepare students for the time when they can step off a bus and experience a California State Park, maybe for the first time. It’s funny to think that our park interpreters are used to hearing “I saw you on TV!”, but we are continuously inspired to see how students’ relationships with our resources in a digital context can support deep and meaningful in-person connections with our California State Parks.

Here’s to next school year, a new normal, and leveraging what we’re learning everyday. We look to a future where we can blend digital and physical experiences in parks to inspire a generation of students to become stewards of their environment, community, climate and culture.

To learn more about how California State Parks is re-imagining the school field trip, visit www.ports-ca.us/passports.

Scott ShepherdPosted: April 15, 2021
Published By: Brad Krey, PORTS Program Manager