The sixth-grade pupils of Evans Middle School made their way through a virtual forest on Tuesday, learning about the benefits of trees through a new, high-tech approach to teaching forestry.
The trailer that contains the Georgia Forests Forever Mobile Classroom has been traveling the state giving interactive computer lessons to pupils. Tuesday's visit was the first for the Columbia County school system.
''There are so many kids that grow up these days with concrete and pavement below their feet, and they have no idea how much of a factor trees play in their lives," said John Colberg, a senior forester with the Georgia Forestry office in Columbia County, which helped coordinate the tour.
''We're just trying to show them what the forestry industry is doing to perpetuate forests in their lives."
Columbia County schools Superintendent Tommy Price felt that the learning experience was so important that he attended the Tuesday visit, saying the computer approach is vital to keeping pupils interested in industries such as forestry in a technology-driven world.
''This is something the kids can better identify with," he said. ''Most of them see a forest and think it's pretty, but they never realize the kind of impact it has on this state.
''I think it's great that through technology we do have these resources."
After clicking her mouse through informational tutorials narrated by country singer Trisha Yearwood, 11-year-old Erin Smith said she was surprised to learn how much oxygen a tree can give off in a day.
''It said it's enough for you and 17 friends," she said.
Meanwhile, Ashley Haymans, 12, found herself concerned about the number of comic books that are made from an average-size tree - about 1,000.
''Why make comic books when you can use it for so many other products?" she asked.
''Well, those are the decisions that have to be made," Colberg answered.
''I prefer to make chairs," Ashley said, with a look of determination.
The computer program also included virtual images of forestry settings in Georgia. Pupils were able to scan the settings with the click of a mouse and learn about animals in their natural habitats. They also were told that forests cover about 65 percent of Georgia - nearly 24 million acres.
Pupils also learned how forestry officials fight fires and sometimes use fires to balance environments.
''There's so many different sides of forestry and so many jobs available," said Chief Ranger Steve Abbott of Georgia Forestry.
Georgia forests provide more than 5,000 products, from the plastics that make football helmets and toothpaste tubes to the paper packages for cereal.
Even some medicines aimed at fighting cancer come from the bark of trees, the computer tutorial said. Forests also provide 177,000 jobs in Georgia and contribute $19.5 million to the state's economy, Abbott said.
Sandra Adkins, a sixth-grade science teacher at Evans Middle, said the program worked well with her lessons.
''This is tying right in with our adopt-a-stream project," she said. ''And we're an environmental school anyway."
She said her class recently planted 10 trees and shrubs around the school and plans to build three new gardens soon.
Abbott said he hopes the mobile classroom will become a yearly event at schools.
''It's a good start," he said. ''And we don't want people to get complacent about forestry. We want to show them that our trees are valuable to us."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.