ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Since last September, more than 8,000 elementary school kids on Mount Desert Island, across Maine and in 17 other states have gone on virtual field trips with park rangers in Acadia.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, rangers would take students into the park for educational programs. Now, virtually, they talk to students and show them photos, videos and objects such as shells, birds’ nests and animal pelts and skulls. The virtual field trips are designed to be appropriate for different grade levels.
“I have one ranger who does animal Olympics for kindergarten and first grade,” said Kate Petrie, the park’s education coordinator. “She’s got them doing things like eagle wings and ant pushups, doing large muscle group movement, which is really good for that age group. At the same time, they’re learning about animal adaptations.”
Petrie said that for fourth grade students, “We have a really neat interactive program about the Carroll Homestead,” which the National Park Service describes as “a tiny time capsule of early settlement” on Mount Desert Island.
“For the older kids, we have a ‘waves in nature’ program, which is about sound waves, water waves and light waves,” Petrie said.
“We have a program that looks at lake biology and water chemistry, a couple of programs on observing nature and studying climate change and a geology program, which has always been popular.”
Petrie said students, parents and teachers have provided positive feedback on the virtual field trips.
“Teachers have been really excited,” she said. “They’ve said the kids sometimes get a little burned out on videos and being on screen–time so much, but when we come into the classroom [virtually], they perk right up.”
Working with Petrie are four park rangers and a teaching assistant at the Schoodic Institute.
“My staff is incredible,” she said. “Even though the kids get tired of being on the computer, my staff really hooks them. They make it very interactive, and the kids really participate; it’s neat to watch.”
Creating and presenting the virtual field trips has been fun for the rangers, too.
“It’s been great to have a chance to be creative, particularly during the pandemic when we’re all shut inside,” Petrie said. “I had one ranger who was booking five programs a day, and I had to tell her to scale back a little bit so she wouldn’t burn out.”
So far, Petrie and her team have done about 575 virtual field trip programs, and by the time they finish in June, they will have reached about 9,000 students.
The Acadia education team also has been doing programs specifically for home-schooled children.
“Now it’s a public program, so adults can join too, and we’re finding that a lot of older people who can’t get out right now because of the pandemic are Zooming in,” Petrie said. “And we are also seeing people from away coming to those and, after the program, they’re asking us questions about their future visits to Acadia.”