plant and nurture scientific seeds in young minds, we need science
classrooms that spark students’ natural curiosity, hold their
attention, and spur them on to ask questions and find answers, no
matter how elusive."
By Robert Ballard, Ph.D.
Founder and Chairman of the JASON Project; Head of the Institute for Exploration at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut; Discoverer of the RMS Titanic and Kennedy's PT-109
Everything about us conspires to make us explorers and scientists. So why are there so few of us doing it for a living?
From birth, we are driven to search and discover. Humans are the most curious creatures on the planet, and our curiosity drives us to question, seek, and find new worlds. Yet all too often, curiosity and the desire to resolve life’s mysteries fizzle out before middle school. Potential careers in science and mathematics sputter to a halt as a result.
This is a loss our nation cannot bear.
As the world economy grows increasingly dependent upon technology and science, only those nations with the best scientists will move ahead. The rest of us will see a dramatic decrease in our standard of living, and the United States may have to import scientists just to keep afloat.
This year, we’ll graduate 60,000 engineers. China will graduate 300,000, and India is right behind them. We are in a global economic struggle, and Americans are not going to win with guns but with what’s between their ears.
Science and technology require an early capturing of a child’s imagination, and often the game is won or lost by the eighth grade. Math is the most popular class in America in fourth grade—and the least popular by tenth. If kids don’t take the coursework necessary to be in this game, it’s like asking someone who’s fifty, “Do you want to play pro football?” So either you get them early, or you won’t get them at all.
To plant and nurture scientific seeds in young minds, we need science classrooms that spark students’ natural curiosity, hold their attention, and spur them on to ask questions and find answers, no matter how elusive. Those classrooms exist, but in numbers far too small to take us where we need to be.
It’s time for the United States to rededicate itself to the kind of science education that keeps students engaged and motivated as they build the problem-solving skills that genuine science demands.
This is the mission of The JASON Project.
The idea for JASON grew out of my discovery of the RMS Titanic in 1985. Thousands of students wrote me asking how they could come along on my next expedition. I’d been part of many scientific expeditions all around the world, but none had fired the passion of young students before. I saw in their fascination with Titanic an opportunity to reignite their natural curiosity.
With JASON, we seek to use the excitement of scientific exploration and discovery to inspire and motivate young students through the long and arduous learning process. We expose them to diverse scientists as role models so they learn from the experts. Advanced technology made it possible for us to discover the Titanic by allowing us to search miles below the surface, down to the ocean’s floor. We could be there without really being there. That same technology, embedded in JASON’s standards-based, middle-grade curriculum, enables students to learn science by “joining” scientists on their missions. They can be there without really being there. And they can learn by doing, not just by reading from a textbook.
Today, seventeen years later, JASON is a nonprofit subsidiary of the National Geographic Society, working with the Society, and partners such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to develop compelling science curricula for students and teachers. Through its history, JASON has positively affected millions of students and teachers, helped them grasp complex scientific concepts, and altered their perception of becoming scientists. But the future is going to be more exciting than ever as we embark on the largest curriculum redesign in our history, to ensure we remain the most exciting and relevant science program available.
JASON’s new paradigm is centered on a new modular, standards-based curriculum that is easier for teachers to implement, and more effective for students to learn the necessary science standards. It’s also based on groundbreaking technology that gives students richer access to real-world science while providing educators with comprehensive tools for assessing the reach and impact of JASON materials.
And now, with partners like the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, JASON is having an impact in Kansas and Missouri. In the coming year, students in these states will work with leading scientists and researchers as they chase tornadoes and fly into hurricanes with the Monster Storms curriculum, which will examine Earth’s fiercest weather.
It is vital that we educate our children to the highest standards to allow them to compete in the world that awaits them, and educational projects like JASON will help keep the country at the forefront of the global economy by expanding our definition of science teaching and learning.
No one knows where or how an inspirational moment will hit a particular student. But we can’t afford to leave it to chance. That’s why JASON delivers those “jaw-dropping” moments throughout the school year. Once their jaws drop in amazement, their minds will open as well. That’s when they are engaged and their minds become sponges, ready to soak up information and do the hard work that’s necessary to learn real science.
Robert Ballard is Founder and Chairman of The JASON Project; Head of the Institute for Exploration at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut; Discoverer of the RMS Titanic and Kennedy’s PT-109
This essay is an excerpt from the Kauffman Thoughtbook 2007
. To view a table of contents for the 2009 edition, or to order a printed copy of the publication, please visit our 2009 Thoughtbook page