For the past two weeks, students across Rhode Island have visited the kelp beds of the Pacific Ocean and the vast coral reefs near Bermuda with the mere push of a button.
The video sojourns were part of the most recent Jason Project expedition, accessible for the first time to Rhode Island schools by cable television.
"It's a big deal to us," said Diane Mayers, a 3rd grade teacher at 134-student Grove Street School in Woonsocket. "We're in an inner-city school, and many of my students don't get to see the ocean or beach at all."
Nationwide, about 800,000 students have access to the Jason Project, which is in its ninth year of producing live, interactive broadcasts for schools from expedition sites across the world.
Most students must go to large auditoriums to participate in satellite broadcasts of the research projects. Rhode Island, however, is one of four states that provide direct video access to the expeditions to most or all of their schools.
The Rhode Island broadcasts were a collaborative effort between public and private agencies, said Tim Armour, the executive director of the Waltham, Mass.-based Jason Foundation for Education, the nonprofit organization that coordinates the expeditions.
The University of Rhode Island's office of marine programs even offered a one-day workshop for 80 teachers a week before the sea expedition.
"Rhode Island is a good example of a state that came together very quickly," he said.
And that was good news for Ms. Mayers' students, who have been tuning in to the broadcasts each day for the past two weeks.
Speaking live from dive sites in Bermuda and Monterey, Calif., researchers talked to students about the differences between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
One recent session revolved around the El Nino weather system that has wreaked havoc on the West Coast while dispersing kelp beds that are a vital part of the marine food chain along the California coast.
"They see something, draw it, and then try to find it in our research books," Ms. Mayers said. "It's a big thing to them to make that real-world connection."
--ROBERT C. JOHNSTON