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Adventures of Jasper Woodbury™ Overview

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What is the Jasper series?

The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury™ consists of 12 videodisc-based adventures (plus video based analogs, extensions and teaching tips) that focus on mathematical problem finding and problem solving. Each adventure is designed from the perspective of the standards recommended by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). In particular, each adventure provides multiple opportunities for problem solving, reasoning, communication and making connections to other areas such as science, social studies, literature and history (NCTM, 1989; 1991).

Jasper adventures are designed for students in grades 5 and up. Each videodisc contains a short (approximately 17 minute) video adventure that ends in a complex challenge. The adventures are designed like good detective novels where all the data necessary to solve the adventure (plus additional data that are not relevant to the solution) are embedded in the story. Jasper adventures also contain "embedded teaching" episodes that provide models of particular approaches to solving problems. These episodes can be revisited on a "just-in-time" basis as students need them to solve the Jasper challenges.

How is the Jasper series different from other "educational" videos?

Many educational videos are simply lectures transferred to a video format in an attempt to provide information to students or to show them examples of situations that students cannot view directly in their lives. The Jasper laserdisc adventures are unique in that they present a believable story that has interesting characters, a complex and important challenge, and extensions to a variety of curricular areas. To solve the challenge, the students use problem-solving skills, mathematics concepts and skills, and the laserdisc to find information that was presented as part of the story. The laserdisc provides instant access to any part of the story and perfect image clarity when an image is frozen on the screen.

Why is it different?

The developers of the Jasper series have observed, as have other researchers in education and psychology, that classroom learning is very different from "natural" learning environments. Natural learning environments, like those in which parents help their children develop language, are often characterized as "contextualized." Participants, in this case the parent and the child, share a context, or a common frame of reference, in which the learning takes place. Additionally, in natural learning environments, the tasks the teacher asks the learner to perform are authentic. They arise naturally in the context, and the participants care about the outcomes. Finally, the knowledge that is being learned is often viewed as a tool to accomplish the tasks, and the learner sees it as valuable knowledge that can be used in new situations.

Unfortunately, many classroom learning environments lack these features. The teacher and student often do not share a common context for instruction. Their backgrounds, interests and values may be substantially different. The materials a teacher has to work with, usually textbooks, rarely have the power to create this common context. Additionally, traditional learning materials frequently do not create authentic tasks that students find interesting and useful outside of class. Finally, students rarely see the knowledge they learn in class as a tool to solve real-world problems. Students often view it as "school knowledge" unrelated to their world.

The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury materials are designed to bridge the gap between natural learning environments and school learning environments. Designed to be used in typical classroom situations, they provide teachers many of the advantages of natural learning environments. They provide a common context for instruction, an authentic task, and a chance to see that school knowledge can be used to solve real problems.

In addition, the series was developed with a set of principles that the designers believe are important in developing problem-solving skills. One of these principles is an "embedded data design." In other words, the data needed to solve the overall problem are found in the story. Students must go to the laserdisc for data they will use to solve the various subproblems and eventually, the overall problem. Secondly, the overall problem is a complex one that the students must solve by generating and solving the interconnected subproblems in order to solve the overall problem.

The Jasper materials are consistent with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards (1989). The NCTM's suggestions for changes in classroom mathematics activities include more emphasis on complex, open-ended problem solving, communications and reasoning; more connections from mathematics to other subjects and to the outside world; and more use of calculators and powerful computer-based tools, such as spreadsheets and graphing programs, for exploring relationships. In proposing a more generative approach to mathematics learning, the NCTM states:

... the mathematics curriculum should engage students in some problems that demand an extended effort to solve. Some might be group projects that require students to use available technology and to engage in cooperative problem solving and discussion. For grades 5-8 an important criterion of problems is that they be interesting to students (p. 75).

What can I expect from each Jasper episode in terms of difficulty level and types of problems presented?

Please refer to this Excel spreadsheet for information about how students are engaged by each episode.

For more background information about the Jasper series, please visit the original project web site.