September 1, 2002
In the second year of our multi-year evaluation of the JASON Project, CCT researchers used a qualitative approach - focus group interviews - to ascertain in more detail how teachers use the JASON curriculum with different groups of students. This report documents findings from this qualitative investigation.
The focus group interviews specifically allowed researchers to explore (1) teachers' use and impact of the JASON multimedia science curriculum, and (2) the benefits and challenges of being a practitioner in the JASON multimedia environment. Within these two parameters, CCT researchers examined ways that the participating teachers thought the JASON multimedia science curriculum could be improved to provide greater access to a more diverse population of students (e.g., honor/gifted and talented, general education, at-risk, special education, homeschoolers). Each group of teachers discussed the ways they use the JASON multimedia science curriculum for their particular student population.
While teachers of students labeled gifted or students who perform at or above their grade levels adapt the JASON curriculum around their regular curriculum and standards, teachers of at-risk or low-achieving students have to adapt the JASON curriculum requirements to specific students' reading comprehension and writing abilities. Teachers of special student populations find the curriculum to be flexible as well as challenging for students with specific learning difficulties or limited English proficiency. Homeschooler use of the print curriculum is supported by their seeking a lot of outside resources for their students, and arranging many field trips with them during the school year.
Despite all the variations in their use of the JASON curriculum and the challenges they faced using it in their respective classrooms, the teachers praised the curriculum as a rich resource for teaching because of its flexible format, interdisciplinary approach, and alignment to national and state standards. They indicated clearly that the JASON project has had a powerful impact on their teaching practices, introducing them to technology integration, providing the benefits of an integrated multimedia curriculum, increasing collaboration between teachers and homeschoolers, and making classroom management easier.
They also reported that the JASON project improved students learning and performance. It excited students, promoted teamwork, and reduced their fear of confronting challenges or ambiguity in classroom activities as well as helped them focus on their work, provided a vehicle for increased parental participation and increased students' awareness of the everyday science in the world around them.
Teachers' discussions of the challenges of implementing the JASON Project in their classrooms and schools focused on two main topics: the need to adapt the curriculum, and the need for ongoing training and support. Some teachers hoped the JASON Foundation would make curriculum adaptations easier for them. Others, however, acknowledged that adapting curricular materials was part of their job and that JASON provided the necessary foundation for that. Most, nevertheless, described ways that the JASON curriculum could be improved in terms of ease of use and accessibility for the needs of particular students or class configurations.
The teachers in all focus groups were very enthusiastic when providing recommendations for the JASON Foundation for Education as well as their school and district administrations. Based on participants' reported experiences and their recommendations, the CCT research team has two general recommendations. First, it is important that the JASON Foundation attend to specific curricular materials to make them easier to use in diverse educational settings. Second, the JASON Foundation should work to increase teachers' access to the training for its multimedia science curriculum. Some of the specific issues CCT suggests that the JASON Foundation consider are:
- Maintaining a balance between the print curriculum and the various technology components;
- Labeling the research materials and technology components by degree of difficulty;
- Producing videos demonstrating hands-on activities that are doable within a regular classroom period, and make these videos available on tapes, CD-ROMs, and online;
- Expanding the bibliography in the print curriculum and help disseminate information about extra materials available for special populations;
- Creating links on the JASON website for sites referenced in the print curriculum;
- Translating more JASON curricular materials into Spanish, and increase awareness among teachers of the current availability of materials in Spanish and other languages;
- Producing audio versions of the JASON books and other reading materials;
- Networking to share experiences and resources among JASON teachers;
For a complete list of recommendations and full discussion of the qualitative methods and analysis, please read the full report.