The Jasper Series: Math and Science Immersion
The Jasper Series takes math and science concepts into the real world. Skills are not taught in isolation and then applied to problems, the problems are presented in such a way as to allow for skill development. Each problem introduces students to different math and science concepts. Students are introduced to a video story without knowing what they will need to do with the information. After viewing students are asked to solve a series of problems and sub problems based on the information provided in the video. Students are able to go back and view the video as many times as necessary. This type of learning is anchored instruction. One benefit of this type of learning is that students who solve contextual problems are more likely to remember the learned skills and be able to apply those skills in new and novel ways.
The Jasper Series appears to be a well thought out program based in anchored instruction. It could do with a remake of the videos as they seem to be dated and this could interfere with students taking the material seriously.
This TELE raises several questions for me (and from reading and responding to several blog posts many of the MET students). Why does education continue to need to be black or white? Rote instruction (direct teaching) vs anchored instruction (situated learning). Why does every “new” idea seem to put down the theories and practices used previously. For me the world, even the education world is a myriad of shades of grey. Do we never use rote instruction or direct teaching for math and science concepts? Does using anchored instruction mean that we just tell the kids to figure it out? Not in my opinion. We need to employ the best teaching technique that helps us achieve our end goal. Sometimes that will be rote instruction, sometimes it will be better suited to anchored instruction. At times students need to build the neural pathways that allow them to memorize facts, at others they need to construct their own knowledge and apply it in new situations.
We spent the last fifteen years understanding the benefits of differentiated instruction. The underlying principle behind this theory is that students learn in very different ways. Choosing only one teaching technique means that we have not reached all of our learners. In previous generations if you did not fit the mould that the teacher made you were considered a poor student. We now know that there should not be one mould. Rather, potentially, there are as many moulds as there are students.
Watching the videos and reading the papers that accompanied The Jasper Series lesson I wondered about teacher professional development. Were teachers instructed how to use anchored instruction or did the creators or those who bought into The Jasper Series expect it would just be an organic process? My concern with this is that in Ontario we had been mandated to move away from rote instruction toward constructivist techniques or anchored instruction. Little to no PD was provided. Sadly, this translated into a lot of staff members believing they no longer taught math. That kids just needed to figure it out for themselves. Needless to say, students began performing quite poorly on provincial tests (although mandated by the ministry of Education to move away from rote, their own tests remained the same). This highlights the black or white ideology that many have. “This is new, this is better, let’s throw away the old stuff” is a myopic view. In reaction to poor test scores the pendulum has swung back to direct instruction.
If teachers were not shown how to use an anchored instruction program and provided with no opportunities to use anchored instruction in a safe environment in order to become comfortable with the material, imagine how many students were thrust into a new classroom style with no idea what hit them. The Jasper Series did not show any lessons on how to ease students (or teachers) into this type of learning. This would be like students showing up for swimming lessons and thrown into the deep end with the instructor having no idea who could swim.
As a TELE designer I would try to adhere to the following steps:
Kozma, R., & Robert B Kozma. (10/01/2003). Journal of research on technology in education:
Technology and classroom practices: An international study International Society for
Technology in Education.
Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework
for teacher knowledge. The Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054
Shulman, L.S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching. The foundations of a new reform. Harvard
Educational Review, 57(1)1-23