- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 29, 2001

Robert Ballard thrilled explorers around the world with his discovery of the wreck of the RMS Titanic in 1985. He also caught the attention of thousands of children, who wanted to join Mr. Ballard on future adventures.

In response, he developed the Jason Project, a year-round scientific expedition and online multimedia curriculum center designed to pique the interest of fourth-grade through ninth-grade children in science and technology while also motivating and providing development skills for teachers.

The 7-year-old site mirrors Mr. Ballard's enthusiasm for spreading his wealth of knowledge by explaining how to get involved in the endeavor and giving students access to the information gathered on each amazing journey.

Jason Project

Site address: www.jasonproject.org

Creator:

The hands-on, multidisciplinary program is owned and operated by the Jason Foundation for Education, located in Needham, Mass.

Creator quotable:

"We designed this site to increase students' interest in science and the world around them in an exciting and interesting way. Jason Project's online community acts as an international link for students, teachers and scientists, facilitating year-round relationships between participants," says Tim Amour, executive director of the Jason Project for Education.

"Students and teachers alike participate in classroom and field exercises, sharing data from their research. They communicate with researchers on the expedition site and engage in chats with colleagues and students in real time."

Word from the Webwise:

The Jason Project site combines a subscription-based area for educators, students and home-schoolers with other free areas open to anyone who wants to do some virtual exploration of other parts of the world.

Looking for a quick science fix? Click on the "Past Expeditions" link on the lower-right-hand side of the opening page to find information on eight previous projects and self-contained minisites of educational content.

The projects have included "Journey From the Center of the Earth," which involved trips to Iceland and Yellowstone National Park in 1997 focusing on earth's geologically active regions; "Planet Earth," which followed researchers to Belize in 1994 to study the planet's health; and "Going to Extremes" in 2000, which looked at the seas and space through underwater laboratories in the Florida Keys and experiments on the International Space Station.

Each project usually contains an overview of the research; background on the scientists, students and teachers involved; a curriculum outline (based on science standards from each state); reference materials; some type of multimedia module, such as audio clips or Webcasts; outside links specific to the topic; and field journals with photos from all of the participants.

For example, the 10th anniversary Jason Project, "Rainforests: A Wet and Wild Adventure," presented a comparative study of temperate, tropical and fossil rain forests.

The project group, headed by 12 researchers, including chemical ecologist John Berry, canopy biologist Meg Lowman, entomologist Randy Morgan and Mr. Ballard, traveled to three sites: an ancient rain forest found in Colorado, zones in the Pacific Northwest and tropical regions in Peru.

What resulted was an online project area loaded with information from the field. I enjoyed the "Ask an Expert" archive containing more than 100 questions and answers about insects, rain-forest mammals and the usefulness of medicinal plants.

The research-topics area within the rain-forest project also impressed, with a nice selection of photos and useful links outside the site interspersed with text on "Ants and Other Arthropods," "Rainforest Geography, History and Culture" and "The Rainforest at Night."

Children will enjoy reading the field journals of the students who were selected to go on the trip.

Ease of use:

My journey through the frame environment of the Jason Project was efficient and painless, thanks to a site map, search engine, drop-down menus and various locator menus. Visitors will need Real Player or Windows Media Player, Quicktime and the 360-degree IPix plug-in to fully enjoy the pages, which contain many multimedia features.

My only complaint, as a greedy Web surfer, was the lack of educational information under some project modules. I would have loved more original content on sea creatures within the 1996 project, "Adapting to a Changing Sea."

Don't miss:

The Jason Project teamed up with the Earthwatch Institute this year to help answer the question "How does man provide enough water for endemic stream organisms (those confined or native to a certain region) to survive in Hawaii's mountainous areas?" Not only does the online attraction come with tons of photos, a pop-up definition box linked to difficult words and a plenty of field data, but it also provides multimedia features such as 360-degree views of the Hanawi waterfall and the 11-member team tagging limpits (a type of mollusk) at the Kinihapai stream.

Family activity:

With the help of a printable Adobe Acrobat document and biologist Meg Lowman, the whole clan can build a penetrometer to learn why insects eat some plants more than others. Using the device created using cardboard, glue, tape and a golf tee to test the toughness of leaves, junior scientists will learn about data collection, field research and what among their backyard greenery is most difficult for insects to chew.

On the horizon:

The 2001-02 Jason Project XIII is going to the regions around the North and South poles to learn about those frozen worlds. Additionally, a new site design, which will contain more offline activities, games and extra help for teachers, should be online in August.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

The content should whet the appetite of students enough for them to bug their schools into exploring aligning with the Jason Project. Home-schoolers can get a password and access to more videos, maps and 250 pages of material for $75 per year.

Overall grade: B+

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing, and children's surfing habits should be monitored. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002, call 202/636-3016, or send an e-mail message (joseph@twtmail.com).

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