Disengagement and Disconnection: Anchored Instruction as Active Involvement

The Jasper materials appear to be responding to issues of disengagement and disconnection. When student are not interested in their learning, they become disengaged, and disengagement can lead to reduced effort, reduced learning, and increased classroom management problems. When there is a perceived or actual disconnection between learning situations and the real world, between concepts, and between students and peers, it can be difficult for students to truly learn and understand a concept. Even the most well-intentioned teacher can miss the mark in creating “authentic” example scenarios for students. I agree with both of these problems. If educators want students to crave learning, students need to be able to recognize value and themselves in their learning experiences. While the Jasper materials are not a one-size-fits-all magic solution, they can definitely be a valuable component of a student-centered classroom and learning design.
The primary way in which the Jasper materials address these issues is through giving students an authentic purpose to their learning. The goal is not simply to complete a certain number of questions, memorize a particular formula, or use the right word at the right time. Instead, the goal with the Jasper materials is for students to connect with the story and decide on how it will be resolved. Students are in control of the path and the methods used, which allows them to find confidence in their own thinking processes, regardless of how they get to the destination. In their description of the application of anchored learning to high school statistics, Prado and Gravoso explain how although three student groups were not able to arrive at a correct answer, all groups applied the correct formula and values; the error was in computation. Anchored instruction tells students that their process is valuable, just as it is in a non-school situation. Even those groups who made a minor computational error likely showed increased problem solving skills and interest in statistics. Releasing some of the structure of the solution process can be challenging for teachers who are inclined to see the “correct” solution in a particular way. A pedagogical shift, however, to allow students to direct the process enables more engagement and more connection, both for the students and the teacher.
Contemporary videos available for math instruction seem to rest somewhere between a traditional classroom model of instruction and anchored instruction. While videos are becoming more and more interactive and open-ended, such as in embedded quizzes in some Khan Academy videos, the primary goal of most of these videos seems to be basic instruction. Although a video affords the viewer the ability to pause, fast forward, rewind, and access the instruction from any location at any time, ultimately, watching many of these videos is still a passive process. While these videos offer many classroom benefits such as being able to work with split grades, support students with different learning needs, help students stay caught up from home, and supporting a teacher when he/she is not confident in the material, the Jasper materials go further into collaboration and higher order thinking. The other videos can help ignite some interest among students and depending on the context, can help students better understand broad connections, but they are not nearly as effective as an experience that allows them to direct the process, that frames a narrative (kids like stories!), and that keeps them wondering and wanting to learn more.


Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992a). The Jasper experiment: An exploration of issues in learning and instructional design. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 40(1), 65-80.

Prado, M. M., & Gravoso, R. S. (2011). Improving high school students’ statistical reasoning skills: A case of applying anchored instruction. Asia-Pacific Education Researcher (De La Salle University Manila), 20(1).

Shyu, H. Y. C. (2000). Using video‐based anchored instruction to enhance learning: Taiwan’s experience. British Journal of Educational Technology, 31(1), 57-69.


  1. Stephanie,

    I agree with you that most math videos and interactive websites lack the opportunity for the user to engage in enriched problem-solving, and instead offer instruction and practice of skills and knowledge. You also mentioned that in the Prado & Gravoso (2011) study that although students had computational errors, their problem solving skills were enhanced. This same result exists in the study that you and I read by Shyu (2000) and Vye et al. (1997). In both these studies there was a distinct increase of problem solving skills in spite of imperfect computations. This brings me to wonder if developing mathematical problem solving skills can occur through other problem solving experiences. For example, simulations like “Third World Farmer”, “Ayiti: The Cost of Life” or “The Civic Mirror” require active problem solving around real-world issues (and actually do incorporate some mathematical ideas), but would problem solving through tools like these potentially increase a student’s ability to problem-solve in mathematical contexts?

    Shyu, H.-Y. C. (2000). Using video-based anchored instruction to enhance learning: Taiwan’s experience. British Journal of Educational Technology, 31: 57–69.

    Vye, N., Goldman, S., Voss, J., Hmelo, C., Williams, S., & Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. (1997). Complex Mathematical Problem Solving by Individuals and Dyads. Cognition and Instruction, 15(4), 435-484. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3233775

    1. I think that at the root of problem solving in any discipline are a set of core skills, so I think that developing problem solving skills in other contexts would better enable students to apply problem solving strategies in math as well. The ability to identify a problem, recognize the tools available and the components still needed, and think out/implement strategies to get to a solution is valuable whether students are solving a Jasper problem, learning a new math concept, building a roller coaster model, trying to keep their simulated family alive, or using a new computer program. Associated characteristics such as perseverance, communication, and attention to detail can also follow suit.

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