Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The JASON Project: Linking Researchers and Middle Schoolers

The urgency in the news and many teacher pipelines about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects isn't just about instruction or teacher education. Students, especially at the middle school level, need to be turned on and drawn into STEM studies to combat negative stereotypes about science and "geeks" and to maintain and increase the interest and involvement of girls and minority students. Another great program out there for peaking that STEM interest is the JASON Project which is devoted to bringing "great explorers and great events" to students and teachers through online communication. "Telepresence" is "embedded" into the JASON Projects' programs.

The JASON Project was founded by Dr. Robert Ballard to channel the surge of "curiosity and excitement about science" from middle schoolers after he found the shipwreck of the Titanic. As a subsidiary of the National Geographic Society, the JASON Project's goal is to "inspire and motivate" fifth to eighth grade students to learn about science. Multimedia tools and technology, the "telepresence," are key to the JASON Project. Videos, Webcasts, live chats, podcasts, and interactive simulations are at the core of the curricula. All students involved in JASON expedition programs remotely connect to the researchers hosting these research opportunities:
Grounded in the principle that students learn best when challenged to apply their knowledge to exciting, real-world scenarios, compelling scientists, taped on location with our student and teacher Argonauts, come to life for students through videos, podcasts, web casts, live chat sessions and interactive computer games.
Currently, 4 different programs are available -- Operation: Monster Storms, Operation: Resilient Planet, JASON Expedition: Mysteries of Earth and Mars, and JASON Expedition: Disappearing Wetlands. Each creates real-world scenarios to challenge and entice students. The JASON Mission Center contains academic content, discussion boards, resources, interactive events, and tools for teachers. The Mission Center comes with the programs which range in price from simple Teacher's Packs to Classroom Packs and School Packs (3 Teacher Packs in one package). The units are touted as "evergreen," reusable school year after school year -- the multimedia in the packs can be updated and therefore stay current and scientifically accurate. The Get Involved! page promises teachers "you can use JASON throughout the school year to connect your students with leading scientists and 'breaking' science news through podcasts, Webcasts, and live chat sessions." The JASON Project also has an At Home component for home study.

The JASON Project really seems to tap into the non-academic perks students can get from interacting with specialists and researchers -- the opportunity to see real people doing real and meaningful things in any discipline, and the chance for specialists and experts to remotely mentor and inspire our young students at a critical time in their school lives.

SOURCE: "Frequently Asked Questions" 2008
SOURCE: "JASON Curriculum" 2008
SOURCE: "Get Involved!" 2008
photo courtesy of Oneras [free Tibet], used under this Creative Commons license

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