Grand Canyon Goes High Tech to Reach Students Nationwide

Environmental Educators Andy Pearce and Amala Posey prepare for their first live broadcast from Grand Canyon’s new Virtual Studio for Kids.NPS Photo by Kristin M. Coldon

Environmental Educators Andy Pearce and Amala Posey prepare for their first live broadcast from Grand Canyon’s new Virtual Studio for Kids.
NPS Photo by Kristin M. Coldon

Looks like the Grand Canyon is going high tech with its new Virtual Studio for Kids. The new studio allows environmental education rangers to share the Grand Canyon with students who live all over the U.S. A pretty impressive feat, if you ask us.

Grand Canyon, Ariz. – “Do you live hundreds or thousands of miles away from Grand Canyon…? Why not let Park Rangers bring Grand Canyon to your classroom?” So starts the National Park Service’s brochure on Distance Learning Education Programs at Grand Canyon National Park.

Recently, the park unveiled its new, high tech, Virtual Studio for Kids. The new studio replaces a temporary one that had been in use since 2006. Improvements include the addition of green-screen technology and an integrated system that allows for high definition, live, multi-camera video production. In addition, schools now have the option of connecting via Skype or through a dedicated IP address, allowing flexibility for those who would like to take advantage of the programs offered.

Using the studio, environmental education rangers at Grand Canyon National Park offer five different, free, curriculum-based, interactive classroom presentations, each appropriate for a different age range. Topics include ecology, geology and human history. Teachers can choose the particular presentation they want for their students and can even sign up for several different presentations, but each presentation requires its own timeslot of about an hour. In addition to the virtual field trips, lesson plans, pre-and post-assessments and other materials have been developed for each of the presentations to help build background knowledge on the topic of study before students even “meet” the rangers.
“Children living in many of the country’s most populous cities don’t live anywhere near Grand Canyon. Yet, its world-class natural resources make it an incredible natural classroom,” said distance learning coordinator Amala Posey. “A Grand Canyon field trip can provide excellent learning opportunities, but for many youngsters, that field trip simply isn’t a realistic possibility. With our new system, we can reliably offer the option of virtual visits to a larger audience than ever before.”

This school year, rangers are offering seven weeks of programming and expect to reach about 3,000 students. They hope to reach as many as 10,000 students in coming years.“We still have some class time available in March. If teachers are interested, they should fill out the registration form found on the park’s website as soon as possible,” added Posey.

Creating the Virtual Studio for Kids took a lot of time, dedication and generosity. Almost two years went into researching and securing funding for the project. To learn what was out there and what might be right for Grand Canyon, Posey contacted other NPS sites and California State Parks. She also traveled to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to see firsthand what they had and learn how it worked. In the end, the system chosen was modeled after NASA’s Digital Learning Network in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Funding to create the studio, which cost almost $105,000, was provided solely through grants and donations.

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