One moment, Hyattsville Middle School student Jonathan Palmer was touring the White House’s park grounds in Washington, D.C. and later that same day, he was checking out the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
Jonathan, 13, of Hyattsville is part of an eighth-grade social studies class that was the first to gain access to a new program from the National Park Service that allows students to experience national parks from their computers. The class received a lesson led by park rangers Sept. 12, who taught about the geology of Grand Canyon National Park using the website, www.nps.gov/teachers. While rangers attended the class for the program’s launch, additional rangers joined in online from the Grand Canyon.
“We can learn so much about [national parks] without even going to the places,” Jonathan said.
With the portal, teachers can arrange live online sessions with rangers from parks around the United States, said Kathy Kupper, spokeswoman for the National Park Service.
“We’re pretty much bringing the parks to the classroom,” Kupper said.
The service is designed for classroom learning, but offers free services, such as videos and lesson plans, that can be used by anyone with Internet access, Kupper said.
At launch, the web portal included more than 50 “distance learning” workshops and 800 lesson plans. Kupper said she expects those numbers to increase significantly as more schools discover the program.
Kupper said Hyattsville Middle School was selected to pilot the program because of its proximity to the National Park Service’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.
Some Hyattsville Middle School students said they have been so impressed by the program that they have been using the web portal outside of school.
Ja’Tae Joyner, 13, of Hyattsville said the website offered an exciting alternative to regular lesson plans.
“They showed pictures and they were asking questions. It was really interactive,” she said.
Adrian Burney, teacher of the class that got to pilot the program, took her students on a field trip last year to Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. Burney said she looks forward to using the web portal throughout the year.
“You know, there’s 401 national parks,” Burney said. “The sky is the limit.”