JASON Project connects students with science
By Kris Stadalsky For The Herald-News November 8, 2011 7:12PM
Vikki Kehoe (left), JASON Project instructor, works with educators Sue Hartley and Sandy Schlesselmann during a Three Rivers Education Partnership training session. | Submitted photo
Updated: December 10, 2011 8:04AM
By the year 2018 there will be more than 1.5 million jobs in Illinois alone in occupations using science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), according to an analysis by state from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
Those jobs will be in the areas of financial management, computer and math science, architecture, engineering, life, physical and social science, education and even the food industry.
Unfortunately for America’s middle school students who will be entering the workforce around that time, the United States ranks 21st in science and 25th in math compared to their peers around the world, reported President Barack Obama in November of 2009.
But thanks to organizations like Three Rivers Education Partnership and sponsorships from local industry, middle school students will be much better prepared for job opportunities that require STEM education.
Three Rivers is working with 18 teachers from 14 area middle schools providing the award-winning JASON Project program, which gets students enthused and keeps them interested in those key areas.
“Young kids show an interest in science when they are little, but then something happens,” said Laura Price, program manager. “JASON Project is making sure they are motivated about and enjoy it, too.”
The fifth- through eighth-grade teachers volunteered to spend some evenings over the course of the school year receiving training on this year’s program, “Operation: Terminal Velocity — Investigating Forces and Motion in Our Universe.”
The teachers get the training through Three Rivers and then bring it back to their classrooms for the students to learn.
“(The training) walks us through different types of websites and provides us with hands-on materials,” said Stacy Faletti, South Wilmington Grade School science teacher. “This year (the program) is physical science. JASON uses inquiry-based programs to supplement what we are using in our district.”
What’s different and exciting about the JASON Project is that it uses telepresence to create the feeling of working alongside the scientists.
Through videos, podcasts, webcasts, live chat sessions and interactive computer simulations, students are virtually “right there,” digging up fossils or watching a volcano erupt.
“It allows a connection for the student with the scientist,” Faletti said. “They love being able to connect with the scientists and do the things they are learning.”
The teachers bring all sorts of supplemental learning aides from the training back to the classroom.
Besides websites and podcasts, students will do science projects in their school’s lab.
There are even computer games that require the scientific and mathematical skills students are learning.
“They try to determine fossil types or take a trip to a site where they find dinosaur bones,” said Faletti. “(The program) virtually takes them there through websites.”
A great opportunity
The key to keeping students interested in science and math is to make it interesting in a way they can relate to, Faletti said.
“They are able to see how science and matter are related to their everyday lives.”
Another plus for the teachers who attend the training is being able to keep in touch with each other on a regular basis.
Through an ongoing dialogue via a website, the teachers share lesson plans, what works and what doesn’t and how a teacher with 34 students handles the program compared to one with 20 or less students, Faletti said.
“It’s an awesome opportunity,” she said.
This year’s JASON Project is available thanks to corporate sponsors Caterpillar Inc., CITGO Lemont Refinery, Oxbow Midwest Calcining, Rhodia, Reichhold and SGS, Price said.
She hopes that more sponsors will step forward so the program can be opened up to more educators.
“We would very much like to grow this program,” Price said.
“The size is held down due to the funding I get from the corporate sponsors. Everything I get I turn around and give it to my teachers.”
The teachers who participate in the yearly programs — TREP is in its seventh year of offering JASON Project training and each year is a different curriculum — are those who are very dedicated to learning something new, Price said.
“These are teachers who are passionate about what they do,” said Price. “They take their spare time to learn about new curriculums and share it with their students.”