Operation: Monster Storms! Even the title sounds exciting! But wait until you see what The JASON Project, a unique nonprofit subsidiary of National
Geographic, has to offer your students in the form of middle-school science curriculum designed to ignite a spark for learning about our world. The JASON Project was founded by Dr. Robert Ballard, whose discovery of the RMS Titanic generated thousands of letters from students who wanted to join his expeditions. Dr. Ballard saw the potential to engage students in learning science by providing them with access to experts in the field of science. If he could help create a passion for science and provide excellent materials to learn and apply that learning, the potential for the next generation of scientists would be exciting. In addition to being a subsidiary of National
Geographic, The JASON Project also partners with NASA, NOAA, the U.S. Department of Energy, and other organizations to bring cutting-edge resources to students.
The Mission Center on their website, www.jason.org, serves as the launching pad to access the myriad activities. There are three core units, Operation:
Monster Storms! (Exploring the Powerful Forces of Weather), Operation:
Resilient Planet (Protecting Our Ecological Future), and Operation:
Infinite Potential (Restructuring the Energy Portfolio). All three units are available in their entirety on The JASON Project website, and, by the way, complete access to all of the materials online is free! All of the print materials are online, as well as the videos, lab sheets, activities, games, additional resources, etc. Or you can purchase a print copy of the curriculum ($24.99 for an Individual Student Edition workbook, $29.99 for an Individual DVD with all of the videos for the curriculum, or $80.27 for the Teacher Pack which includes the Student Edition workbook, the DVD, and a Teacher Edition of the workbook). While you are checking out the Core Curriculum, don't forget to explore the website for some of the other great resources, such as continuing education for science teachers, podcasts, Web casts, interactive computer games, and live chat sessions. And don't even get me started on the Argonaut program, where students and teachers spend time doing research with experts in their fields.
The JASON Project encompasses many avenues for learning that would require much more than this humble review to present, so I will focus on the print materials for one of the three available units, Operation:
Monster Storms! After reviewing these materials, my family will never look at weather the same way again! The 118-page Student Edition workbook is just what you would expect from a marriage of National
Geographic and a group of scientists who want to get kids excited about science! The book is filled with stunning full-color photographs, charts, graphs, and visual displays of every type to make the materials come alive. Illustrations guide the student to a deeper understanding of weather processes and keep kids engaged in learning. The materials are written at a middle-school level but could easily be adapted for younger or older students, especially using the extensive additional resources and materials in the Teacher Edition. Each unit is geared toward a five- to nine-week period, but it could be condensed or extended depending on your needs. The focus is on hands-on learning and using critical thinking skills to understand and apply the information to real-life situations. Operation:
Monster Storms! is broken into five Missions, with an expert in the field guiding the students through the materials in each Mission. The DVD includes background information on the unit and each of the scientists, as well as the Argonaut students who participated in that unit. There are also Mission Briefings and various materials related to each particular Mission. After receiving the briefing, students read the materials and conduct experiments to apply their learning. Detailed instructions explain how to conduct each experiment. Lab kits are available for each unit, although the materials needed are generally common household items. Lab sheets and various worksheets are all available online so that students can keep track of their data and analyze what they have learned. The Teacher Edition contains a tremendous amount of additional material, so you do not need to have any prior experience to effectively teach these units. Online, there are even more wonderful Teacher Resources, including a Lesson Builder and Assignment Manager, Online Reporting, and an Assessment Builder, as well as links to additional resources. All of the units are aligned to National Science Education Standards and all state science standards.
The impressive list of awards, including the 2008 SIIA (Software & Information Industry Association) CODiE Award for Best Online Instructional Solution, and the 2008 Tech and Learning Award of Excellence, speaks for itself. But let me give a quick review of my family's impressions of The JASON Project. We were extremely impressed with the overall goal of the project, to "connect to great explorers and great events." Isn't that really part of the passion of many of us as homeschoolers? We want to make history, literature, science, etc., come alive for our students and provide them with meaningful ways to understand their world. The staff that I spoke to from The JASON Project and the scientists on the DVDs were all passionate about helping kids learn and get excited about science. Another steady refrain was the importance of understanding extreme weather forces to save lives and property, thus showing kids that the concepts they are learning have applicability to the real world. We were also impressed with the high quality of the materials that would definitely help kids stay engaged and learn about the incredible forces of our weather. There is something here for every learning style, and these units would be excellent on their own or as part of a unit study. Everything that you need is already prepared and available in the books and online. There are extensive search options and teacher resources, making our job easier and allowing us to provide more in-depth learning or just pick and choose the needed materials. There are a few brief references to evolutionary ideas (such as millions of years and ancestral hominids), although these were certainly not prominent.
I think the toughest decisions families will face with The JASON Project are which amazing unit to use first, and whether to use the materials online for free or purchase the beautiful print copies. Try not to get lost in these wonderful resources and spend a year on each unit, as this would be easy to do. My one complaint is that there are only three units available! I would love to see The JASON Project expanded to a full middle school, or even high school, science curriculum!