March 1, 2002
For the past thirteen years the JASON Project has offered students and teachers unique opportunities to explore how the systems of earth and space support life in a hands-on manner and learn about the science and technologies used to study them. Approximately 25,000 teachers and 1 million students nationwide now participate in the program, which seeks to help students acquire critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Through JASON's curriculum, students and teachers join teams of researchers on an annual two-week expedition that explore key curriculum topics and themes through multiple media. This includes a print curriculum and prologue video, live exposition broadcasts and update video, and Team JASON Online. The print curriculum mirrors researchers' work in the field or lab, and includes a video, which introduces and reinforces curriculum topics and themes, as well as structures fieldwork. The live expedition Tele-presence helps students become a part of the research team and experience the expedition firsthand. Team JASON Online (TJO) is a set of integrated online interactions (e.g., teacher-directed exercises, discussion groups, chat sessions, additional curriculum exercises, assessment tools, online journals, etc.) used by teachers, students, and scientists to articulate and share their understanding of science concepts, skills, vocabulary, and projects.
The Center for Children and Technology (CCT) proposed to study the impact of the JASON Project on a diverse population of students' science experiences and learning by undertaking a one-year comprehensive evaluation of student learning in the JASON multimedia environment.
CCT researchers worked with nine science teachers and 269 students from eight middle schools located around the country in Arkansas, California, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. The schools have the following characteristics: grades 6 to 8; low student/teacher ratio; average to above-average school achievement; and an average of 400 JASON students. Most of the schools serve mainly white low-to-middle-income students. However, one of our JASON classrooms consists of academically-at-risk black students, and another classroom has mainly low-income Hispanic students. All nine of the participating teachers taught science. They are mainly white and female, and have an average of 20 years' teaching experience, eight years' technology experience and five years' JASON experience. These teachers are not the only JASON teachers in their schools. There is an average of five JASON teachers per school participating in this study.
Participants in the study included administrators, JASON Teachers, JASON Students and non-JASON Students. Using school profile surveys, teacher surveys, teacher interviews, classroom observations, pre/post inquiry testing, video assessment, JASON Online and site visits, CCT recorded student impact in several different areas: attitudes toward science, critical thinking skills, science content and technology use.
Jason Impact on Teaching
JASON changes teaching practice. It encourages project-based learning, increases teacher collaboration and promotes alternative forms of assessment. For example, all of the teachers requested student to present projects as part of their JASON work. Some teachers went further, asking their students do more active group work. JASON also often inspired teachers of different subjects to collaborate across the same grade level, enabling them to provide the framework for an interdisciplinary approach to learning a single, large topic. One teacher said that her involvement with JASON encouraged her to try new assessment techniques: "I had heard about portfolios in other workshops, but I hadn't thought about incorporating them until JASON."
JASON also increases teachers' use of technology. Teachers claimed their involvement with the JASON Project has pushed them to make greater use of technology than they did previously, though not all teachers were able to take advantage of Team JASON Online because of limited access to computers in their classrooms or a lack of training in the TJO environment.
Jason Impact on Student Learning
CCT's has focused more on inquiry than on content skills in evaluating JASON Project students. CCT found that JASON Project's hands-on and environmental exploration activities keeps students engaged, appeals to diverse learning styles, involves the creation of tangible products and is especially effective with at-risk students.
Students and administrators alike cited the hands-on activities as the most effective tools in the JASON Project curriculum. They felt the labs, activities and field investigations offered by JASON held students' interest more than standard teaching methods.
Apart from the hands-on activities, JASON Project's use of actual expeditions gains student interest, according to teachers and administrators, because it allows students to see science being done by real-world scientists. According to one longtime JASON teacher, the interest in science that JASON can inspire in students because of the connections they make with real scientists sometimes endures longer than their exposure to the curriculum.
Most JASON students acquired scientific inquiry and analytical skills, and outperformed non-JASON students based on the results of a pre-and post-inquiry test that asked students to answer questions by interpreting data and building an argument.
COMMON THEMES AND CHALLENGES
The JASON curriculum is adaptable.
- Teachers pick and choose activities from the curriculum, selecting activities that support state and district standards; however, variable topics mean that JASON may or may not support a grade's required curriculum in any given year.
The success of JASON depends on the teacher.
- The project attracts teachers who take a hands-on approach to science and enjoy learning new subjects.
- The curriculum is often adopted through a bottom-up process; when the curriculum is imposed on teachers they are not enthusiastic about it.
- Teacher enthusiasm can inspire other teachers to make use of the curriculum.
District and school constraints impeded the process.
- Teachers sometimes pay out of pocket for training and supplies and changing topics sometimes require teachers to purchase new materials each year.
- Class periods are too short to conduct JASON activities and field experiments and out-of-class time too scarce to work with other teachers on interdisciplinary ideas.
- High-stakes testing prevents teachers from using the curriculum if JASON content does not appear on the test.
Based on our findings, we believe that the JASON Project can do several things to improve upon an already strong program. They can:
- Consider building different portals of entry for individual users of their print curriculum materials, such as "at-risk" students, team teachers, and first-time JASON users.
- Provide teachers with opportunities to discuss their practice with experts in the area of accountability in chat sessions or online message boards. These opportunities should be well constructed.
- JASON should provide an opportunity for students to share their work with a larger audience of learners. An example might be an online science fair.