Calling All Argonauts

By coincidence on the heels of yesterday’s post on environmental education, I spent yesterday afternoon at with the JASON Project, a National Geographic subsidiary focusing on science education.   The curriculum is interesting, engaging, involves actual scientists doing actual science and it’s tied to state standards.  Like this NBC initiative it shows what’s possible in terms of moving technology beyond the “gee whiz” phase and embedding it in teaching and learning content.   Also, per yesterday, it shows the folly of pitting science against reading.  The work that students do as part of JASON is critical thinking, problem solving, and so forth.  The exact things we hear so much about — but it’s done while learning content and reinforcing literacy (and numeracy).

15 Replies to “Calling All Argonauts”

  1. I got my start an an environmental educator, and I’m a true believer in No Child Left Inside. The program you witnessed, along with the Service Learning proposals highlighted by last night’s presidential discussion are also promising. High Schools That Work makes a persuasive case that a good way to turnaround middle schools is to replace “worksheet science” with real exploration.

    I’d just like to point out the obvious. If you love fishing enough to produce Fish Porn, shouldn’t that influence your approach to poor children’s schools? You never intened for NCLB to be implemented in the disgusting ways it has been. (We can agree to disagree over whether those negative effects were predictable) Doesn’t that mean that veteran teachers who oppose NCLB-type accountability because of its unintended effects have a fighting chance to bring you over to our side? Even if we can’t get you to repudiate the EEP and sign the Bolder Broader Approach (which I still think we ought to be able to do) we ought to be able to agree on a compromise consistent with Obama’s plan, and back off from the reductististic thinking prompted by NCLB I.

  2. If memory serves, and I believe it does, our middle school purchased the JASON Project.

    It was a complete waste of time.

    Every parent in the school was forced to trek out to Michael’s to purchase kits and spray paint; at least 5 of us picked up the same styrofoam solar system, which we helped our kids assemble and decorate so the final product could be put on display in the middle school foyer.

    Then the district’s publicity person took pictures and wrote up a story on the “exhibit,” which was published in the district newsletter.

    from the web site:
    “The result is deeper student engagement, increased motivation and higher achievement.”

    nope. none of the above. No deeper engagement, no increased motivation, and no higher achievement. Just the usual grading down of boys on “creativity” and the like. Not only were the kids bored and the parents shanghaied into yet another crafts project, but some of the kids’ grades suffered, too, since teachers aren’t required to offer instruction in “creativity.” They just grade it.

    As for the technology, a couple of the kids fell asleep during the “being there experience.” Sure an “educational telepresence” might sound like just the thing to ”Ignite the Spark to Engage Students in Science,” and one can’t help being moved by the testimonials of students talking about the effect JASON has had on their lives. But a good pitch isn’t a good product.

    If you don’t mind a piece of advice, I think it’s a mistake for “eduwonk” to promote vendors. There are thousands of “innovative curricula” like JASON on offer, each one created by an education entrepreneur with a mission and a product to sell. They are part of the cycle of non-accountability in public schools, a pure input with no measured or measurable output.

    The time and money spent on enrichment packages like JASON is time and money not spent on real curricula and real teaching.

  3. “The work that students do as part of JASON is critical thinking, problem solving, and so forth.”

    Mostly “…and so forth.” Has anyone checked for any correlation between this project and success in high school math, chemistry, and physics? Education is a hot market because you can sell all sorts of silly things to educators. It’s easy to get kids excited about science, but they are back to eating Twinkies (so to speak) the next day. Perhaps it’s because K-8 educators don’t have a clue about what it really takes to prepare kids for college math, science, or engineering. It has little to do with how many virtual rides you take with Robert Ballard. My son has gone on so many school and summer trips to the Mystic Aquarium, but it’s my hard work with him on math (not his school) that will properly prepare him for whatever he wants to do in college.

  4. I have always wanted to believe that JASON was a great program, and wanted to see it disseminated to every school in America, but I have to chime in with Jane Doe about how over-hyped this program must be. I’ve been to their workshops at the teacher conventions and there’s just something icky about them.

    And you do have to ask — why can’t any classroom and any scientist do this on their own through YouTube and IM?
    Why not open curricula projects?
    (because there’s no money to be made, I guess)

    Syndicated curriculum is just another opportunity to exploit ignorant/overloaded/not-really-altruistic teachers and schools.
    I have a similar uneasiness about Project Lead the Way, for which I also wish success but fear corruption.
    Our local magnet high school has been doing something like PLTW for 15 years ago, and now the district implements PLTW right down the hall without ever having bothered to talk to those teachers.

  5. I have a similar uneasiness about Project Lead the Way, for which I also wish success but fear corruption.

    Project Lead the Way happening here, too.

    Billed as a “pre-engineering curriculum.”

    A friend of mine calls it “Project Bleed You Dry.”

  6. The following is one of the FAQ questions at the PLTW website.

    “Why does PLTW have a math requirement for students enrolled in its program?”

    They explain that the regular high school math courses are important to understand the material in PLTW and will help them prepare for college.

    They should put this in stonger terms on their home page, like this:

    “If you can’t get to calculus, PLTW is no substitute. Drop the PLTW courses and spend the time on math. If you can’t hack the math, you better start looking at vocational schools. Schools of engineering will not look at your PLTW course grades; they will look at your math classes and scores. Schools of engineering require differential equations. A course in Excel or AutoCAD is not a substitute.”

    Engineering in college means math. Working on a solar car project is not a substitute. Get a college course catalog and look at the course requirements. These comments also apply to JASON and No Child Left Inside.

  7. I have been using JASON in my classroom for 9 years. It is one of my favorite things to share with my students. I love the fact that I am learning along with my students. I even took the opportunity to take some of my students to study the Panama rainforest when the expedition focussed on that area of the world. When I first started teaching science at the middle school level, my students were most familiar with the “Einstein or Doc from Back to the Future” type of scientist. That was all they were exposed to. Now thanks to JASON, my students are learning they can be a scientist who studies volcanoes, glaciers, life in rainforests, underwater life in oceans, analyzes soil samples on Mars, to anything they could imagine studying. Students have the opportunity to learn about these researchers and visit with them in on-line chats. They become real. Like any curriculum, a teacher can pick and choose any of the activities to use with their students. I find my students are most excited when we perform science labs simulating work of actual scientists. This gives value to their learning. I’m excited with each year’s new curriculum. The on-line digital labs have gotten better each year. This year, students go underwater in a submersible to discover about leopard sharks and Hawaiian monk seals in Hawaii. It has many components of video games to hold students’ interest, but contains scientific data that makes the learning real. Since becoming affiliated with National Geographic Society, the wealth of scientific knowledge and photography has increased to a level higher than any text book could hope to attain. There are many parts of past JASONs that I continue to use in my earth science curriculum: comparing the geology of Mars with Earth, Channel Islands plate tectonics, large portions of Disappearing Wetlands and Monster Storms (especially since we keep having major hurricanes causing damage), and volcano formation of Hawaii. JASON seems to be very topical… Disappearing Wetlands came out before the destruction of Hurricane Katrina – students can learn why this hurricane caused so much damage. Monster Storms continues with how hurricanes form. Mysteries of Earth and Mars is a good covering of Mars and NASA’s desire to eventually send astronauts for exploration. It is current science and I’m so glad my students are a part of it!

  8. I recently retired from thirty-one years service as a classroom teacher in a small town in south central Oklahoma. I’ve had my students involved in The JASON Project since 1993. My students have had more success with JASON than any other program made available to them, including sports. In 1994 we had a student, Jennifer, selected to participate as a Student Argonaut in the fifth expedition to Belize. Two years later, Jennifer’s brother, Justin, was selected to be a Student Argonaut in the seventh expedition to Florida. (Both Jennifer and Justin were selected on their own merits. The selection committee for JASON VII was not aware that Justin was the younger brother of a former Student Argo.) Because of Jennifer’s involvement in JASON she was accepted to the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics. Because of her involvement in JASON she received a full-ride scholarship to Boston University during her freshman year of college. She returned to Oklahoma and continued going to school. This past May she graduated from OU with a Phd in pharmacy. She ranked among the top six students in a class of 125. By the way, Justin graduated from OSU back about two years ago and is now a systems analyst for a law firm in downtown Dallas. Not bad for two students who were raised by a single mother who had to work nonstop just to make ends meet.

    Did their involvement in The JASON Project play a role in their successes? Absolutely. Please keep in mind that Jennifer and Justin are just two of our success stories.

  9. I can’t speak with authority since I’ve never seen the JASON project, but I cant help but otice that while JASON has been attributed for the success of some students in college and beyond, there are also students who emerged from traditional science curricula that did just fine as well. One therefore has to question to what extent other factors are coming in to play. I don’t have the stats to compare JASON-induced students to traditional-science students and while I don’t discount the value of seeing something for real (after all, traditional science classes have chem labs, physics labs and biology labs), there is something to be said for content presented in textual form. Such courses involve real math and prepare students to absorb and process content by means of reading rather than travelling in a virtual submarine, coloring disks on a computer, and other bleed-me-dry type exercises.

  10. I see the troops have been called out.

    I’m happy for Jennifer and Justin, but you have to look at everyone.

    “Not bad for two students who were raised by a single mother who had to work nonstop just to make ends meet.”

    This bothers me a lot. I grew up (with three siblings) with just my mother, who had to work, but I wasn’t stupid. My schools didn’t assume I was stupid. They didn’t set lower expectations because of my situation at home, and they didn’t think I needed a JASON-like program to inspire me. This is the undercurrent through all of this. Low expectations.

    It’s nice to get kids excited about learning, but you also have to judge the time tradeoff and misdirection. The misdirection has to do with taking the focus away from important courses, like math, physics, and chemistry. These are the courses that will get kids into college math, engineering, and science departments, not JASON. A top-down, real world approach to learning never goes deep enough. Kids might be inspired, but they are woefully unprepared for real science. I saw what happens back when I taught college math. Kids pick majors based on what they are interested in, but then they run into the math (statistics) dead end. OK, pick another major.

    The goal is to improve the teaching of regular math and science courses, not find an alternate path. Schools can’t give Everyday Math to kids and then hope that JASON will fix it all up. If you want to offer JASON as an option on top of the regular science courses, then that would be a better approach.

  11. I am concerned re: use of the English language in this thread.

    for instance:

    “I even took the opportunity to take some of my students to study the Panama rainforest when the expedition focussed on that area of the world.”


    “This year, students go underwater in a submersible to discover about leopard sharks and Hawaiian monk seals in Hawaii.”

    Students enrolled in The JASON Project are not “taken” to the Panama rain forest, nor do they “go” underwater in a submersible to discover about leopard sharks and Hawaiian monk seals in Hawaii.

    Students enrolled in The JASON Project watch other people do these things on television.


    “Throughout the year, JASON gives every student opportunities to join real expeditions without leaving their classrooms.” [source: JASON Project]

    The JASON Project, in short, is a bit like watching the old Jacques Cousteau documentaries on TV, back in the 1960s, the difference being that Jacques Cousteau’s documentaries appeared on commercial television free of charge while JASON is an educational product available for purchase.


    “In 1994 we had a student, Jennifer, selected to participate as a Student Argonaut in the fifth expedition to Belize.”


    Jennifer was not selected by The JASON Project.

    The JASON Project was selected by Jennifer’s school district and paid for by local residents.


    Every student and teacher who explores with JASON is given the title of Argonaut…. [source: JASON project]

    Of course, educators are free to embellish the package as they see fit. in my own district student participation in JASON was a somewhat protracted affair:

    1. students watch JASON broadcast in class
    2. students download JASON-related pre-written science papers from internet
    3. parents purchase JASON-related solar system kits from Michael’s
    4. parents and children spray-paint, glue, and assemble JASON-related solar system kits from Michael’s
    5. pre-written science papers and completed solar system kits are displayed in middle school foyer for parent viewing
    6. free-lance publicity professional hired by school district photographs exhibit, writes story
    7. story appears in district newsletter

    John D: I trust this last will be of help to you in your assessment of JASON and its efficacy.

    Please be in touch if I can be of further assistance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.