Lighting the Fire of Discovery

By Robert Ballard and Caleb M. Schutz

As the global economy grows more and more dependent on science and technology, nations with the best practitioners will forge ahead. The rest will see a dramatic challenge to their standard of living. The implications are enormous, both for societies and individuals.

In the U.S., the more years our students spend in school, the more steeply their science achievement drops compared with students from other countries. It’s time to change the way science instruction is delivered.

Faced with these realities, educators are being urged to innovate and adopt 21st-century methods while still teaching the standards and focusing on student achievement. Is this possible and, if so, how?

We believe it is. We want to take young students beyond textbooks and lectures to inspire and motivate them to want to learn. That’s the mission of The JASON Project (, a nonprofit subsidiary of National Geographic Society that has reached some 11 million students and teachers since its founding in 1989.

The idea for JASON grew out of the discovery of the RMS Titanic in 1985, when thousands of middle school students wrote letters asking if they could join the next expedition. It’s clear that great events like finding the wreckage of the Titanic fire students’ imaginations, just as Sputnik did in 1957. Stories like this happen a lot -- just not often enough in classrooms. 

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