JASON project attracts students to science

Tim Samaras chases tornados for a living. Now he is sharing his experiences with middle school students through the JASON Project, headquartered at GW’s Virginia Campus.

“Operation: Monster Storms,” which was launched earlier this month, is the newest in a series of programs created by the JASON Project to meet national education standards while presenting science to students in an interesting way. Monster Storms uses modern technology, from podcasts to direct video contact with scientists like Samaras, in order to teach weather, said Caleb Schutz, president of the JASON Project.

“If (students) see the scientists live after they’ve see them on videos, they’ll start shaking and screaming,” Schutz said. “You will think you’re at a rock concert. It’s amazing. That’s the whole process of making scientists as important to them as athletes and celebrities.”

Robert Ballard, the famed oceanographer, created the JASON project in 1989. It is a nonprofit subsidiary owned by the National Geographic Society that is aimed at creating engaging curriculums for fifth to eighth grade science classrooms. JASON utilizes multimedia technology and real-world scientists to enhance the appeal of standardized science curriculums for middle school students.

Schutz said the program aims to bring “light bulb” moments to students by allowing them to learn alongside impressive scientists.

“The goal is more and more kids will find something that excites them, as opposed to oak desk and the textbook,” Schutz said.

Schutz said when he took the helm in 2005, he was charged with re-examining the then- 16-year-old program. That year JASON moved most of its headquarters from Needham, Mass., to GW’s Virginia Campus and National Geographic took control.

Since arriving at GW, the JASON Project has partnered with the Graduate School of Education and Human Development to conduct research on the educational effects and influence of JASON on its students. GSHED is in the process of organizing this research based on the impact of the current “Operation: Monster Storms” content.

“Researchers in GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development are conducting evidence-based research to understand the effects of the JASON Project’s curriculums on student learning, student interest in science and teacher engagement,” Elliot Hirshman, chief research officer for GW, wrote in an e-mail. “In this context, GW researchers will work with approximately 30 classrooms in Virginia to evaluate the meteorology curriculum.”

Hirshman said GW’s researchers are working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in order to evaluate the JASON Project’s meteorology curriculum presented in “Operation: Monster Storms.”

“Every day we hear about the need to engage more students of all ages in science and math and to improve the teaching of science in America’s schools,” said Craig Linebaugh, associate vice president for academic planning at GW. “The JASON Project represents an innovative approach to science education, and it is of mutual benefit to JASON and GW to work together to assess the principles and approaches being used in the JASON science modules.”

One of the JASON Project’s goals is to expand the program across the country as well as the world. Currently, the project has a formal partnership with Australia but is focusing on expanding to Virginia-area schools, said Schutz.

He said JASON is more than an investment in the future – it’s an investment in students.

“If a kid gets through JASON and find their own self-motivation and own passion and finds something different than science, that can still be a big win,” Schutz said. “Passion is everything.”

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JASON Project students Students participating in the JASON Project learn about science in an exciting way.
Courtesy of the JASON Project