Curriculum Development Project

The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury Series

By Kelli Nipper

The Jasper Woodbury Project is a series of twelve videodisc adventures, supporting teaching materials, and optional computer activities that are designed to enhance problem solving in the mathematics classroom. Designed by the staff of the Learning Technology Center (LTC) at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, each adventure provides opportunities for problem solving, reasoning, communications, and connections for students in grades four and up. The developers focused on four different topics for the series: trip planning (distance, rate and time), business planning (statistics), way finding (geometry), and algebra. My research of the Jasper Series will progress through its genesis and purpose, evaluations, and optional support features with an emphasis on the trip planning episodes.

The Learning Technology Center began research in 1987 in three projects that provided foundations for Jasper. The ëInert Knowledge Projectí, probably the most influential, indicated the importance of helping students overcome failure to spontaneously utilize relevant knowledge. An educational psychology teacher provided students a lengthy article with the assignment to learn as much as they could about it in 10 minutes. Instead of using skimming strategies, as they had been trained, most students began reading the article word for word until time was called. Thus, the Jasper Experiment attempts to provide opportunities for students to apply appropriate strategies without prompting.

Secondly, ëThe Logo Projectí indicated the need for learning experiences to provide natural contexts for communications and further inquiry. Fifth graders were taught how to program computers in order to assess its effects on general thinking and problem solving. Though students problem solving strategies were not refined from their experience as anticipated, they eagerly communicated any discoveries with their classmates and parents. This contextualization provided participants with a common frame of reference allowing the problems to become more authentic, and thus more ìnaturalî. Therefore, The Jasper Experiment endeavors to provide rich contexts for mathematical thinking and problem solving about real-world situations.

Finally, ëThe Dynamic Assessment Projectí indicated the significance of assessing individual studentís responsiveness to learning opportunities. The researchers found it difficult to locat projects worth assessing; hence, the Jasper Experiment aims at providing assessment to studentsí responses.

Each of the instructional units developed contains a fifteen- to twenty-minute adventure portraying a realistic theme with embedded information and ending in a multifaceted mathematical challenge. After previewing the video as a class, students reexamine the adventure in heterogeneous groups of three to four with the intent of gathering implanted data necessary for problem solution. While students collaboratively work on the challenge, the teacher should prompt students to consider all relevant issues and redirect groups that are ìoff-trackî. The laser disk allows groups to easily review scenes (occasionally multiple times) and freeze frames to find all pertinent embedded information. Brief analogous problems are provided for groups that finish early. After each group presents their plans and solutions to the class, the ëJasper Solutioní is viewed and discussed. Many times, students create more efficient and preferred plans!

The Learning Technology Center (along with The Optical Data Corporation) helped produce three videodiscs that deal with different aspects of trip planning:

ìJourney to Cedar Creekî: Jasper Woodbury takes a boat trip from his home to Cedar Creek Marina where he purchases a boat. On the test drive, he learns that the running lights are not working, and there is a temporary fuel tank. This adventure challenges students to help Jasper determine if he can make it home before sunset without running out of fuel.

ìRescue at Booneís Meadowî: Emily, a friend of Jasperís, learns to fly an ultralight airplane. While Jasper is on a fishing/camping trip he finds a badly wounded eagle. This adventure challenges students to make a plan to help Jasper and Emily get the eagle to the veterinarian.

ìGet out the Voteî: Lenore Clayton is running for Mayor of Cumberland City. Her campaign strategy includes making sure voters that are mostly likely to support her can get to the polls. This adventure challenges students to prepare plans for Lenoreís two children, Marcus and Tracy, to drive as many voters as possible to the election polls.

The teacherís role includes knowing whether students can actually perform the required skills. This may include modifying tasks or creating alternative problems to make them solvable by younger and less-advanced students as well as older and more-advanced students. One suggestion for remedial application is to help students identify the subproblems necessary to develop a useful plan. For example, ìRescue at Booneís Meadowî challenges students to make a plan to help Jasper and Emily get the eagle to the veterinarian. As indicated by ëThe Inert Knowledge Projectí, some groups of students may have initial difficulty utilizing relevant knowledge. Using second level questioning, such as ìHow much fuel will the ultralight need?î or third level questioning ìIn order to figure out the amount of fuel you will need, what specific information about the distance and the speed do you have?î, may be necessary in order for some students to ìtransform mere facts into powerful conceptual toolsî.

Though the series is characterized as void from lecture material, many concepts and skills are introduced in the context of the plot. The supporting teaching materials outline the trip planning adventures to include the following objectives:

By reading the instruction manual and previewing the adventure, these objectives can be attained regardless of instructional models. The most successful approach is the ëguided generation modelí where teachers adopt the role of learner sometimes providing guidance to students In this teaching method, students understand why it is important to learn various skills and when they are useful. Some teacherís prefer the ëbasics-first curriculaí approach where the program is used as an application for practicing skills that have already been developed. Though effective, this method doesnít provide students with opportunities to find and formulate problems on their own. The ëstructured problem-solving modelí is a teaching style where students experience a minimum of errors and feelings of confusion. Because students only work on correct plans, they are not engaged in problem generation and monitoring. This is the least recommended strategy.

Research shows that students that learned through the Jasper program outperformed students learning through traditional word problems in several areas: complex problem solving skills, word problems, and confidence in mathematics. Even though the adventures do not contain extended instruction in the concepts of distance, time, area, decimals, fractions, area, perimeter and volume, both groups made equal gains in computational skills. Thus, participating in Jasper program enhances studentsí abilities to apply math skills in new contexts.

The developers of the Jasper series have also provided a variety of optional support features. ìJasper in the Classroomî, a video that allows teachers to preview the complete Jasper problem solving process, shows clips from a sixth grade classroom throughout a five day experience helping pinpoint trouble spots, as well as providing pedagogy tips.

Another optional feature is the ìSpecial Multimedia Arenas for Refining Thinkingî (ìSMARTî). By using telecommunications, and Internet technology, teachers can receive feedback from other student groups solving a particular Jasper adventure. The Jasper materials include a CD-ROM so teachers can preview the SMART program and its variety of problem solving tools.

Also, ìThe Jasper Adventure Player and Adventure Makerî software package is available to aid in student assessment. Using a computer, along with the laser disc player, this program simulates the consequences of student responses to the challenge problems. Showing the outcome allows students to see if their results are correct as well as see that there are a variety of correct results.

Because my students had not acquired many skills (including decimals) involved in the ìJourney to Cedar Creekî, I was skeptical that they would be successful. However, my own background of mathematics got in the way of seeing how a sixth grader could use

other means. My students carefully watched the video and their involvement in the development of the problem freed them from the notion that they cannot solve the problem. Because they had not yet been instructed in the material necessary to finding the expected solution, they used other paths using their available skills. Also, the freedom from reading comprehension gave all students a clear grasp of their task regardless of their reading ability. As we watched the solution, it was interesting to see how differently but successfully the groups had solved the challenge. They have frequently asked if we are going to solve another Jasper Adventure.

The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury were proposed to recreate the advantages of informal learning by changing typical instructional practices. Aligned with the NCTM standards (with emphasis on technology use, complex problem solving, making connections, reasoning, and communication), the Jasper series brings math to life in the classroom by linking subject matter to studentís interests and observations. The underlying goal being to help all students learn to become independent thinkers and learners rather than simply perform computations and retrieve facts. These advantages include creating experiences that are more similar to the kinds of informal learning that take place in daily life, identifying misconceptions involving both concepts and procedures, and reinforcing that the teacher is not the only source of learning. Misconceptions about the teacherís role, classroom environment, and value of groveling with a task are among the disadvantages. Also, the character roles seem to be performed by middle school students. This may limit interest by older students that could also benefit from alternate approaches to the series.

Reference List

Barron, B. and Kantor, R. J. (1993). ìTools to Enhance Math Education: The Jasper Series.î Communications of the ACM, 36, 52-54.

Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992) ìAnchored Instruction and Situated Cognition.î website: 9art1.html; Printed: Monday, February 1, 1999.

Jenson, Linda (1998). ìVideo Instruction as a Constructivist Tool.î website: http://seamonkey.ed.; Printed: Monday, February 1, 1999.

The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury.î website: page49.html; Printed: Monday, February 1, 1999.

The Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. The Jasper Project: Lessons in Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment, and Professional Development. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers. 1997.

Who is Jasper Woodbury?î website: jasper.h07; Printed: Monday, February 1, 1999.

Additional Useful References

Bransford, J., Hasselbring, T., Barron, B., Kulewicz, S., Littlefield, J., & Goin, L. (1998). Uses of macro-contexts to facilitate mathematical thinking. In R. Charles & E. A. Silver (Eds.), Teaching and Assessing of Mathematical Problem Solving (p. 125-147). Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.

Bransford, J., Sherwood, R. Hasselbring, T., Kinzer, C., & Williams, S. (1990). Anchored instruction: Why we need it and how technology can help. In D. Nix & R. Spiro (Eds.), Cognition, Education, and Multi-media: Explorations in High Technology (p. 115-142). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.

Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. (1990, August/September). Anchored Instruction and it relationship to situated cognition. Educational Researcher, 19, 2-10.

Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1991). Technology and the design of generative learning enviornments. Educational Technology, 31 (5), 34-40.

Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992). The Jasper Experiment: An exploration of issues in learning and instructional design. In M. Hannafin & S. Hooper (Eds.), Educational Technology Research and Development, 40 (1), 65-80.

Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992). The Jasper Series as an example of anchored institution: Theory, program description and assessment data. Educational Psychologist, 27 (3), 291-315.

Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992). The Jasper Series: A generative approach to improving mathematical thinking. In S. M. Malcom, L. Roberts, & K. Sheingold (Eds.), This Year In School Science 1991: Technology for Teaching and Learning. Washington, D.C.: American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (in press). The Jasper Experiment: Using video to provide real-world problem-solving contexts. Arithmetic Teachers: Mathematics Education through Middle Grades.

Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (in press). Toward integrated curricula: Possibilities from anchored instruction. To appear in M. Rabinowitz (Ed.), Cognitive Science: Foundations of Instruction. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Gauvain, M., & Rogoff, B. (1989, January). Collaborative problem solving and childrenís planning skills. Developmental Psychology, 25, 139-51.

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1982, October). Effects of cooperative, competitive, and individualistic learning experiences on cross-ethnic interaction and friendships. The Journal of Social Pshychology, 118, 47-58.

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Stanne, M. B.(1990, August). Impact of group processing on achievement in cooperative groups. The Journal of Social Pshychology, 130, 507-16.

Kohn, A. (1986, September). Cooperating in the classroom. Psychology Today, 20, 27.

Perlmutter, M., Behrend, S. D., & Kuo, F. (1989, September). Social influences on childrenís problem solving. Developmental Psychology, 25, 744-54.

Slavin, R. E. (1987, October). Developmental and motivational perspectives on cooperative learning: A reconciliation. Child Development, 58, 1161-7.

Van Haneghan, J.P., Barron, L., Young, M.F., Williams, S. M., Vye, N. J., & Bransord, J. D. (1992). The Jasper Series: An experiment with the new ways to enhance mathematical thinking. In D. F. Halpern (Ed.), Enhancing Thinking Skills in the Sciences and Mathematics (p. 15-38). Hillsdalee, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.

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