A Student Trip to California With an Eco Tour Focus

Students groups studying science, biology, ecology and other related topics may want to consider planning an eco tour of California. This tour would encompass some of the most well known national forests in the United States.  Students would be able to see the California Redwoods up close and visit sites relevant to marine science.  A well-rounded trip might also include a visit to San Francisco, where there are natural areas to explore nearby and within the city limits.

Eco trips are a great opportunity for active learning about the natural world.  Visiting some of California’s natural treasures will impress upon students the importance of preserving these and other areas in the U.S. Following are some suggested itinerary stops for an eco tour of California, along with brief descriptions of what each place has to offer.

Sequoia National Park
Located in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, Sequoia National Park offers the ecology or science student a rare look at some of the largest mountain ranges in the West (rising to heights of 12,000 feet or greater) and some of the oldest and most well- preserved sequoia redwood trees.  Up until the late 1700s and early 1800s Sequoia National Park was inhabited by two different tribes of native Americans:  The Monache and Yokuts.  Students exploring the park will learn about their history and see their artifacts. In the late 1700s the Spanish explored the region. Later came hunters, trappers, loggers and miners. By 1890 this region became Sequoia National Park. Today it is called Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks – both in the same vicinity of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  In addition to a rich history and some very special trees, the Sequoia National Park is also an excellent site for the study of geology with some unique features of the mountains, canyons and waterways.

Yosemite National Park
The famous naturalist John Muir was one of the main forces behind the creation of Yosemite National Park. Yosemite is approximately 200 miles from San Francisco and just over 300 miles from Los Angeles.  The park encompasses 1,169 square miles and is also home to many larger than life redwood trees.  Almost 95% of the park is designated as wilderness – making it a wonderful location for the study of ecology, biology, geology and other scientific subjects.  The park has many dramatic waterfalls, with Yosemite Falls being the tallest in North America at a height of 2,425 feet.   The highest peak in Yosemite is Mount Lyell at 13,114 feet; the most well-known is Half Dome, at 8,842 feet — this famous peak was cut in half by a glacier. The park offers a great deal of bio- diversity with many different plant and animal species, some which are unique to the park itself.

Cowell Redwoods State Park
At this California State Park, students can take a self-guided nature path tour to become familiar with the flora and fauna in the area. Here students will experience the wonder and magnificence of walking in old growth woods.  There are a variety of trees in the Cowell forest that have never been cut. Some of the trees in this park are 1400-1800 years old. These may include Redwoods and Douglas fir, Mandrone, Oak and Ponderosa pines.  The tallest tree in the state park is 285 feet and approximately 16 feet wide. Students will see the San Lorenzo River and visit the nature center and bookstore to learn more about the trees they see.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

A visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium offers students the chance to see the marine life that lives and feeds near the California coastline up close.  Some of the sea creatures that inhabit the aquarium include octopus, sea otters, pink flamingos and other wading birds and penguins. A visit to the Aviary offers a look at birds and animals that live near the ocean’s edge, including:  the leopard shark, sand crab, bat ray, bay ghost shrimp, North American plovers and red phalarope.  For student trips designed for seeking a more interactive adventure, group leaders can plan a sailing trip or surface scuba diving adventure with the Aquarium dive staff in the Great Tide Pool.

Morro Bay State Park

Students can further explore species that live on the California coast by taking a glimpse at marine life in the Morro Bay and lagoon.  The group can visit the Morro Bay State Park Museum and learn about the cultural history of the Morro Bay area, Native American settlements that once existed there and the unique geology of the bay. Groups can visit the saltwater marsh where they will have the opportunity to watch native birds in their natural habitat.  Another suggested stop near Morro Bay is the Museum of Natural History where they can opt to take a nature walk, view the exhibits, and learn about the Chumash and how they used native plants in their diets and daily lives.  The Museum of Natural history tour is recommended because it will further deepen students’ knowledge of the area.

If student groups have time in their schedule and wish to visit an urban area, San Francisco offers Twin Peaks and Fort Point National Historic Site, and other eco tour options. They can also visit well-known sites, such as the downtown district, Chinatown, Cannery Row and other places.

Eco tours are a rewarding experience for both teacher and student, because this type of trip is a great complement to learning through reading.  Teachers interested in advance preparation for trips can visit the websites of locations discussed in this article for learning modules and other materials.

To request a quote for an eco tour visit  http://www.educationaltravelconsultants.com and fill out the brief questionnaire. Or, email info@educationaltravelconsultants.com.

American History in Person: Junior High Student Trip to Washington DC & Philadelphia

Students from The Big Piney School in Wyoming in front of the Washington Cathedral.

Greg Bell, a junior high U.S. History and World Geography teacher from Wyoming, takes 30-40 students on an East Coast tour each year that includes visits to Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and even Gettysburg. These trips expand student learning about these subjects and expose them to a whole new world.  Bell’s group comes from Big Piney, WY — a town of about 1,000 people. It is 100 miles to the nearest shopping mall.  Visiting the urban areas of the East Coast is a real eye opener. Bell says, “I have taken students on these trips for 19 years now. Some people remark that it must get boring.  After all this time I have not grown tired of it. It is the highlight of my year. It’s a social studies teacher’s dream.”

Encountering American historical sites in person is different than learning about them through reading and lectures.  “I can lecture to the kids about George Washington,” says Bell, “but there is nothing like watching a kid walk through Mount Vernon on his own.” During their trip to Washington’s former estate, they met George Washington in person (a living history actor) and were able to ask him questions.

Greg and his son, Jefrrey Bell, stand in front of the Liberty Bell on their school trip to Philadelphia.

Meanwhile other actors were shooting replicas of Colonial weapons. Life in the Eighteenth Century is dramatized in front of the student group and they get to tour a well-preserved, authentic plantation from that time period – complete with living history actors who re-enact life in the Revolutionary period.

Curriculum objectives are closely tied to the itinerary of the trip. Bell’s U.S. History class begins with the American Revolution and ends with the Civil War.  That’s why a visit to Philadelphia is on the itinerary.  “It’s the birthplace of America,” remarked Bell. “We walk through Independence Hall and see the actual place where the Constitution was written.”  Students remember their time spent at Independence Hall vividly, and often speak about this, and other sites in their post trip discussions back at Big Piney School.

Philadelphia is the birthplace of America, but Washington D.C. is the hub of government today.  At Arlington Cemetery, Big Piney School students witnessed the changing of the guard. “In class,” Bell says, “we speak about what a reverent place it is.  We stop and see famous Americans buried there. Who, as an American, cannot be touched by looking off at those endless rows of white headstones?”  Another somber site students visit is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Bell covers the holocaust of World War II in his 7th grade World Geography class.  Bell steers the students away from the more graphic exhibitions. He says they can return in a few years, when they are older. But the most memorable exhibits for students are the display of the shoes of the Holocaust and Daniel’s story.  “There are mountains and mountains of shoes, and each pair represents a person – a human being,” remarked Bell.  Kids also relate to Daniel’s story of the holocaust, because he is about their age.  “Every year some of the kids come out of the elevator in tears,” says Bell.

The Big Piney School 8th Grade Class poses for a picture while they visit the East Coast.

Post trip in-class exercises include discussions of sites that sparked students’ creativity with challenges to recall the memory of what they’ve seen.  “When we return we have a sharing activity, comparing and contrasting what we’ve done in class versus what we saw on the trip,” said Bell.  Some students even make Power Point presentations to share photos of their trip with other students. Bell has designed a fun, interactive exercise for his classes.  “We play a little review game where the students get clues about the history and location of a site. Their task is to guess which site it is,” said Bell.  Exercises such as these stimulate memories of the trip and get them talking about it to one another.

In addition to being a history and world geography teacher, Greg Bell is also the Social Studies Chair for Sublette District #9. This position puts him in charge of setting up K-12 curricula for Social Studies teachers in his district. He is a husband and father of two children. His job is challenging, and his work impacts other teachers. Recently, some of Bell’s female students purchased him a bracelet that says, ‘what you do matters.’ He was wearing this bracelet during the interview. Clearly Bell’s teaching methods –which include these annual trips to Washington D.C. and Philadelphia — do have a lasting impact on students and the way he chooses to educate them.

Request a quote for educational tours that tie in closely to curricular objectives and are customized with teacher and student needs in mind. Or, email info@educationaltravelconsultants.com.