About once a year I get invited to Washington DC for the annual training of the newest JASON project curriculum. JASON has been around for many years. The early years were site specific, where they would mount an expedition, invite a few kids and teachers along and then invite the middle schools of the world to join with some live video feed from far flung locations.
The new JASON is more curriculum based. Before this year, the new JASON curricula consisted of weather, ecology and energy. This year I was excited to see the roll out of the newest Geology based JASON curriculum: Operation Tectonic Fury. The idea behind all of JASON is that we need to get middle school kids excited about science. JASON writers team up with scientists who are working on some pretty interesting stuff and then share this cutting edge research while developing the building blocks of the science. In this case, the researchers are examining crystal growth, soil formation in the aftermath of volcanic eruptions, looking for candidate locations for carbon sequestration and creating more detailed maps of the ocean floor. As the writing begins, a group of students, called "Argonauts" are picked from applications from all over the world. The Argonauts, accompanied by Argonaut teachers then visit the research areas where a camera crew video tapes lessons that pertain to the "unit" being studied.
Because JASON is a part of National Geographic and has partners the likes of NOAA, NASA and Oak Ridge labs, the research is fascinating and the product is excellent.
However, in my mind what sticks out as best in the whole JASON experience are the hands on labs that are created for each concept. In this day of school budget being slashed, the labs must be inexpensive to replicate but still must show the concept being taught. Too many times in my career have I seen labs that don't clearly show the concept being taught. Not here. The labs are inexpensive, easy to do and make a statement about the concept being taught. In Operation Tectonic Fury, labs ranged from the simple rock and mineral identification to modeling convection currents in the mantle resulting in moving plates and exercises with both relative and absolute dating. The IT department has also made some fantastic online games for all the JASON curricula. I am sure the teachers play these games as often as the kids do.
Everything JASON does is designed to help kids discover scientific concepts through inquiry. It does a good job.
I wanted to share my experiences with the rest of the geoblogosphere and invite you to visit the JASON site at jason.org. All JASON materials are free! Send this along to any 5-8 grade teacher you might know.