It has been my experience that although students may know how to solve a series of directed problems in mathematics given a formula or strategy, they have a difficult time taking that knowledge and applying it in a realistic situation. The Jasper Series attempts to move students beyond the basic component skills regularly taught in the classroom, to the higher level problem solving and generative thinking. In other words, students must learn to identify and define issues and problems on their own rather than simply respond to problems that others have posed for them (CTGV, 1992). The video series provide stories with embedded information needed to solve the problem the story poses. The information is often given within the dialogue, rather than explicitly with demonstrations, although this is also evident. This requires the students to analyze which information is important for them to use to solve the problem.

One of the positive aspects of this model is that the videos can be accessed by anyone, and most students will be able to glean information from the story, allowing all students to participate in the activity. There are many entry points for students at varying academic levels. Where some students are quite capable of thinking about Bernoulli’s principle and weight payload of the ultra-light, other students could easily measure the distance on a map. The beauty also lies in the affordance of the students to use their own strategies to come up with a solution, not an answer. There could be many solutions to the problem which takes away the notion of right and wrong, which allows students to take risks with their learning. Unlike other videos such as Khan Academy which are much more didactic in tone, telling the students what they need to know, rather than letting them discover it for themselves.

Although the Jasper videos are somewhat dated, the problems and solutions are still very relevant today. One thing that I thought might be interesting for older students to demonstrate their mathematics knowledge would be for them to create similar video scenarios, either for their peers or for younger students, following a similar format, and posing a challenge at the end. A project for the future perhaps.

References

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

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.

Anne,

You have reminded me of some interesting aspects of the Jasper series and anchored instruction. That students are required to start posing the questions in order to solve the challenge, is such a reverse style of learning, but one that heightens thinking skills and helps develop an independent learner. I have incorporated what I call “inquiry” journals with my students. Although not specific to math, these journals are a space for students to notebook the many questions that arise in their minds. I do believe that not all questions need to be answered, but the act of asking the question is indicative of a thinking student and the seed has been planted.

Your project idea is also quite interesting. In the CTGV (1992) article there is mention of smaller extension activities as well as introductory type activities. Perhaps beginning with a miniature version of a problem solving video scenario would be a a good starting point.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

Hi Anne,

What I love about this type of math and science problem solving is as you mentioned; “The beauty also lies in the affordance of the students to use their own strategies to come up with a solution, not an answer.” It was very hard to break myself of the- here is the formula, do it this way, you will get the right answer- teaching method. I was creating a group of robots who did not think about anything. The thinking was done for them. This lead to cohort after cohort of students who had no thinking skills of their own. I found I engaged many more students when I started using the line “solve it however you want, there are a thousand ways to arrive at the destination, show me what works for you.” While some students embraced this (usually those who saw things differently, often so differently I wasn’t sure what they were doing- but 9/10 they ended up explaining it to me and they were right). What was really interesting was the high functioning math student who panicked with this format and would repeatedly ask, “show me what you want me to do so I can do it and get it right.” They were excellent robots but they very rarely had an understanding of concepts. So many of our students just want the magic formula so they can apply it and not think about it. One of my favourite lines was from a high functioning math student who was a fantastic robot but wanted the magic pill was that ” I was trying to break his brain”, unfortunately for him, I reminded him that often when our bones break the regrowth of new bone often makes the broken spot stronger than other areas.

Catherine

Your bone analogy is so interesting, as I too, have those high functioning robots in my class who would much rather just have a math worksheet and the formulas to get on with it. It is interesting to me that when I give them an application assessment they often have no idea how to proceed and usually end up tanking it because they cannot think about how to go about solving the problem without being given the specific steps to do so. I am spending a lot of time in my class of grade 7 students trying to get them past the spoon feeding and into the thinking for themselves. I feel a little like Sisyphus trying to push a huge boulder up the hill, but there are days when I feel like I am making some progress. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

Anne

Hi Anne and Catherine,

Anne, I enjoyed your response and thought you brought up many important points in relation to the Jasper series videos. The idea that has really stayed with me is “one of the positive aspects of this model is that the videos can be accessed by anyone, and most students will be able to glean information from the story, allowing all students to participate in the activity.” As you point out, students with varying academic abilities are able to participate at some level with each video, allowing all students to be active participants and the potential to feel involved in the group activity. I do think that this would have to be monitored to ensure that students who struggle are not left behind as stronger students surge ahead with their own theories and calculations. I also really liked the way you emphasized that “the beauty also lies in the affordance of the students to use their own strategies to come up with a solution, not an answer. There could be many solutions to the problem which takes away the notion of right and wrong, which allows students to take risks with their learning. Unlike other videos such as Khan Academy which are much more didactic in tone, telling the students what they need to know, rather than letting them discover it for themselves.” I thought this was a wonderful way to summarize one of (what I would consider) the most significant educational aspects of the video series. The fact that students are not limited to a “this way only” approach allows students to use their collective knowledge and skills to develop and test their own theories, allowing for active participation and a student-based approach to learning. Rather than teachers imparting knowledge, students are given the opportunity to learn from their inquiry and experiences, which in turn encourages creative thinking and problem solving strategies.

Catherine, I love your reference to the “high functioning math student(s)” who “were excellent robots but they very rarely had an understanding of concepts.” I was brought up in a very marks-oriented household and to this day, marks are very important to me. I also struggle with my creative thinking skills and I have found on many occasions during my MET journey that I wished a professor would tell me exactly what it was (s)he wanted, rather than allowing us to design open-ended projects of our own choice and design. I find open-ended projects stressful and appreciate black and white options. Having said this, I recognize that this is not a positive quality and I am striving to create a learning environment within my own classroom that allows for creativity and does not limit students to a “right answer” only approach. As you have shared, I too remind students that there are countless ways to solve equations and as long as they can show me that their approach worked, then I am happy to accept it.

Anne, I had a similar idea to yours that students could “create similar video scenarios, either for their peers or for younger students, following a similar format, and posing a challenge at the end.” When I had considered having student-created videos, I had only thought about it in terms of peer-viewing, but I love the idea of creating video-based problems for younger students to solve. This would be such a wonderful way to promote inclusion between grades and for younger students to connect with their older role models. It would also mean the older students would have to carefully consider the problems/questions presented in their videos in terms of what information and concepts to apply, and how to present that information for a younger audience. It might be neat for the older students to come into the younger class after the younger students had completed the video assignments for a “Q&A” period and to explain the development of their videos and the problems they created to the younger students. I am a huge advocate of anything that can build community and connections within a school and this seems like such a neat way to join classes together.