Middle school students connect with Yellowstone National Park remotely to learn about Yellowstone’s geology, wildlife and history, and what it’s like to be a park ranger. NPS PHOTO

Middle school students connect with Yellowstone National Park remotely to learn about Yellowstone’s geology, wildlife and history, and what it’s like to be a park ranger. NPS PHOTO

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While the best way to learn about and appreciate Yellowstone is to visit the park in person, this isn’t always an option for everyone. Luckily—thanks to technology—Yellowstone still has so much to offer those who want to explore its fascinating geology, wildlife and history. Since 2011, Yellowstone National Park has offered the opportunity for classrooms to have a park ranger visit them—virtually—and it has been a huge hit.

Classrooms can Skype with a Yellowstone National Park ranger to learn about geological features including geysers, hot springs and volcanoes; facets of park ecology like wildfire; wildlife such as bears, bison, elk and wolves; the cultural history of Native Americans; and Yellowstone’s rich history as the world’s first national park.

Students can also interview a ranger about their job, or even participate in a “guess that park” mystery Skype. The subject matter and format can be adapted to a wide range of ages. Many teachers host the session in conjunction with the Yellowstone National Park Service “Expedition Yellowstone” curriculum, or integrate it into Yellowstone-related lessons in their own curriculum.

A YouTube clip of a Skype session between a ranger and a classroom shows the ranger filming a group of bison grazing in a snowy field. The classroom, viewing the encounter remotely, responds with a collective “whoa.” One kid says,“Go touch one!”

Another student responds, “No, you can’t touch them!”

The ranger explains visitors have to stay 25 yards or more from bison in the park. She goes on to share facts about the animals, such as their weight (up to 2,000 pounds) and how they sometimes sidle up to geothermal features in the winter to stay warm.

Together, the ranger and students watch as the herd ambles near a sidewalk through a snow-covered playground at the Mammoth Hot Springs community center. “I think one’s trying to get on a swing,” the ranger says, prompting a round of giggles from the kids.

The Skype with a Ranger program has been growing each year to meet demand from teachers who want to share the wonders of Yellowstone with their students, and help foster park preservation and stewardship. Since October of 2015, 17,300 students in 44 states and 17 countries have participated in the program.

More information about the program can be found at https://education.microsoft.com/Story/VirtualFieldTrip?token=4c5ec.

Yellowstone Forever is the official education and fundraising partner of Yellowstone National Park, and is a proud supporter of the Skype with a Yellowstone Ranger program. To learn more about the organization, visit Yellowstone.org.