Robert Ballard: The JASON Project

Robert Ballard

Robert Ballard, founder of the JASON Project, elaborates on the history and evolution of the program.

  1. How did the JASON Project start?
  2. Why do you think the kids were so excited about the Titanic expedition?
  3. How does the JASON Project work for the fourth- through ninth-grade students it serves?
  4. Where does technology fit into the JASON Project?
  5. Do you think kids are naturally interested in science?
  6. How many students and teachers are involved in the program each year?
  7. Why does JASON work?

1. How did the JASON Project start?

The origins of Jason were when I found the Titanic. I came back from that expedition and there were 16,000 letters waiting for me. And they all basically said the same thing: "What do I have to do to do what you do?" Well, the answer's simple. You go to college, you study physics for ten years, its a slam dunk after that. But the kids were not making the connection between the scientific adventure I was having and the dues I had to pay to live that adventure.

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2. Why do you think the kids were so excited about the Titanic expedition?

They saw in our expedition a great adventure. And they wanted to go on that great adventure. And they wanted to know what they had to do to do it. And so when we saw their interest in that, we saw an opportunity. Could we turn their interest in our adventure into a genuine interest in science and technology? Because they also said, in the same letter, "Next time you do it, can I go?"

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3. How does the JASON Project work for the fourth- through ninth-grade students it serves?

The idea is this: They will study a pretty tough curriculum -- interlocking curriculum -- science and chemistry, math and physics and biology, engineering sciences, social sciences as well. And that they will study this curriculum with their teacher, working on our Web site, jasonproject.org, which is a gated community. And then at the culmination of their studies, near the end of the year, we'll do an expedition live for them. Sometimes we'll go beneath the sea. Sometimes we'll go in the rainforest. Sometimes we'll go into outer space. Doesn't matter. Wherever there's action in science. And then we use this technology of telepresence to then transport them on the expedition.

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4. Where does technology fit into the JASON Project?

It's a liberator. I mean, I think all technology really is, or we should throw it away. Kill it if it isn't. It empowers us. And one of the things it does for us is it makes it possible for kids to go electronically on an expedition. It gives us an opportunity to take large numbers of kids to very remote places on the planet and give them a sense of being there.

I'm a field-based person. I mean, I love being in the field. I love to be out there. Extracting the truth from the edges of science. And the more we can take kids along the way. ... When we take a kid along the way, whether it's as an Argonaut and we physically take them or we take them through telepresence, and they see the process, [that's] when science becomes humanized. And there's these people out there scratching out the truth and getting their hands dirty, and the kids start to get their hands dirty, and they start to realize the commitment of these people to finding out the truth. When they see the commitment of our teachers to teach them, when they start to understand that there are a lot of human beings in this game who really care, then the kid is impressed by that.

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5. Do you think kids are naturally interested in science?

Kids are born scientists. They have that flame of curiosity. And, unfortunately, our system has had the ability to turn that curiosity off. So we see our mission in life is to really grab them when they're excited, and that's when they're pre-fourth grade, fifth grade. And then keep the flame of curiosity alive up and through [the time when] they get into high school. You've got to get them to the tenth grade. If you can get them to the tenth grade, you've won the game.

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6. How many students and teachers are involved in the program each year?

We're in our twelfth year now of the JASON program. We have 1 million children in the program. We have 22,000 science teachers in the program. And the demographics of our million kids is the same as the country. So we're reaching all of the kids. In fact, 53 percent of our kids are young ladies.

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7. Why does JASON work?

I think why people tune into me is because I go on the traditional epic journey. I leave society. I get on a plane, I fly somewhere, I get on a boat, and I head off into the great unknown. But before I do that, I have a dream. And I think all explorers are driven by a dream, a vision, an idea. I think we're all driven by dreams and ideas. Everyone has dreams. And I think the key is to teach kids to pursue their dreams. To make it their passion. And then once they're hooked on their dream, then they have to prepare themselves for their dream.

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This article originally published on 12/3/2001

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