"Can you hear me?" science teacher Sharon Pearson asks her students from the opposite side of the Earth.
Miller Elementary School's 600 students, sitting on their cafeteria floor in North Las Vegas with eyes fixed on the TV screen, simultaneously yell, "Yes." A few seconds later, they also laugh in unison after hearing their reply reach Pearson on a dock in Israel.
The concept of their teacher being so far away yet talking with her face to face is entertaining but difficult for many to grasp. A lot of them have never left Las Vegas, fifth-grade teacher Theo Small says.
"Can you tell it's raining outside?" Pearson asks in her Tuesday morning video conversation with students.
The students all twist their heads to the right to look out the cafeteria windows. "It's not raining," some students reply as teachers laugh.
Though students struggle to comprehend the distance between them -- it's 8 p.m. where Pearson is -- the purpose of her work has been heard loud and clear.
She's there for them.
"I hope that my going has affected you guys," she says. "You can do what I'm doing. I'm nothing special."
Pearson is in Israel aboard Nautilus, a research vessel operated by Robert Ballard, the man who discovered the sunken Titanic. She is part of a scientific team using remote-controlled submarines to explore the remnants of a thousand-year-old earthquake that caused a deep-sea landslide, exposing prehistoric rock layers.
Students from first to fifth grade spend an hour Tuesday asking questions about underwater lava flows, incandescent creatures, tectonic plates, rock formations and coral, illustrating the fervor for science that her expedition has stirred back at Miller.
"Now, they all want to be scientists," Small says. "Ask anyone of them. It's a direct connection."
"It was very inspirational," says Zachary Demarco, an articulate fifth-grader, noting that classroom science can be boring.
"But science can be fun," adds his friend, Christopher Reti. "You just have to make it fun, like Mrs. Pearson."
Planting that seed is just the point for Ballard, who started inviting teachers to be crew members in 1989. The decision came within months of discovering the Titanic. He received thousands of letters from young students wanting to join the expedition.
"I want to do what Mrs. Pearson is doing," says 10-year-old Brianna Vazquez, who has never seen the ocean but has been keenly watching the expedition on Nautilus' live video feed at www.nautiluslive.org.
The research vessel recently was forced to return to Haifa, Israel, after only five dives because of an incoming storm that churned up 10-foot waves on their way back to the dock, says Pearson, who worked in the control room, observing submarines' video feed and communicating with submarine pilots.
The team gathered more than 100 plant and animal samples and discovered the sunken wreckage of a World War II airplane.
"The most discouraging thing was seeing all the trash," Pearson says of their excavations of the dark, deep ocean floor, far from any light or civilization.
Everything she is doing relates to what students are learning, says Small, mentioning that fifth-graders are learning Earth science and are starting yearlong projects. The project theme this year is sharing the planet. Plastic bags and glass bottles on the deep ocean floor demonstrate humanity's effect. Students easily make that connection, he says.
The technology behind the science can be a little more difficult to grasp, as shown when Pearson asks students what they've been doing.
Students immediately try to have their own conversations with Pearson, filling the room with incoherent noise.
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@review journal.com or 702-383-0279.