Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bridging Content, Purpose, and Collaboration: Jason Science Reviewed

Reviewing Jason Science  

Thinking, writing, and acting with a focus on education today can seem frustrating sometimes - change seems to happen slowly and the potential seems limitless.  However, it’s worth acknowledging resources that really are working and changing the way that teaching/learning occur. 

In previous posts, we explored three applications that bridge the gap between content, collaboration, and purpose as easy access points to initiate change. One such resource noted in the earlier post was Jason Science and for those of you not familiar with it, you should be. It’s a  great resource that scores very high on placing students in an authentic context - thinking and acting like historians, mathematicians, writers, artists, or (in this case) scientists.

The site is geared for middle school students and combines a traditional online textbook with actual research and expeditions undertaken by scientists in the field. Topics then culminate with analysis of the scientist’s findings as well as a call to action for students to conduct their own research. For example, a unit on Plate Tectonics begins with a chapter on geology with the following culminating activity, known as a mission.

From Jason Science: Tectonic Fury, Mission One

To begin this assignment, you will analyze Dr. Wise’s geochemical data collected from rocks around Sebago Lake in Maine to determine the concentration levels of the element tantalum in different areas. From this analysis, you will determine areas which contain high enough concentrations of tantalum for practical mining. Once you have completed the analysis of Sebago Lake, you will analyze your local geology. Using maps and samples collected in the field, you will develop a model of locations in your area which are economically practical for collecting commercially valuable rocks.

Jason Science is a subsidiary of the National Geographic Society, and the site delivers content with print, text, and digital media.  While some elements are for sale, a great deal of the curriculum materials are available free of charge online.

The materials are an excellent example of authentic learning, but fall short of being called Challenge  Based Learning. (Review the criteria again.)

Another nice touch is the personalization of the content with specific scientists who are shown and briefly introduced. That small piece of personalization, the wealth of content accessible in many formats, and (most importantly) the analysis of real research and the extending challenge/mission of personalizing the concepts to the student’s context, can only help reduce the all-too-familiar student refrain “why are we learning this stuff?”.

It’s worth a visit, and share the site with someone else who you think might be interested.  

Changes in the way students learn don’t happen everyday, we need to reward examples that are making a difference.

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