Thousands of fourth through eighth graders from Region V school districts will visit the Lamar University campus to learn about the fragility and resilience of some of America’s endangered ecosystems.

The JASON Alliance for Southeast Texas is hosting the 2009 JASON “Operation Resilient Planet” event at Lamar University’s John Gray Center Jan. 23-Feb. 9.

Approximately 9,200 students from Region V school districts will be visiting the university campus for this science education experience that has a relevant message for the youth of Southeast Texas regarding the health of marine ecosystems, said James Westgate, professor of Earth and space sciences at Lamar and a JASON Project organizer.

Representatives from Shangri La Nature Center, the National Weather Service, Big Thicket National Preserve, Sea Grant, Texas Parks & Wildlife, 4-H Agrilife Extension Service, the Texas General Land Office Oil Spill Prevention Division and numerous professionals from the Southeast Texas applied sciences community will conduct interactive sessions with students after they view the “Operation Resilient Planet” video produced by the communications and Earth & space sciences departments at Lamar, with assistance from the JASON Project, a non-profit subsidiary of National Geographic.

In the first six days, students in fourth, fifth and sixth grades will enjoy hands-on interactive sessions where they will learn about the area’s unique ecosystems and measures to protect it. In the second week of presentations, seventh and eighth grade participants will be introduced to careers and opportunities in science, health sciences, engineering and more, Westgate said.

The video features scenes from the Flower Garden National Marine Sanctuary and Southeast Texas’ own student argonaut Brittany Jeanis of Beaumont. West Brook High School standout Jeanis joined Robert Ballard, discoverer of the RMS Titanic shipwreck, on the science expedition as part of the JASON Project. She helped conduct research at the marine sanctuary 110 miles south of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico, focusing on the dynamic survival of the region’s coral reefs and diverse ecology despite its exposure to hurricanes and human activity. A varsity soccer player interested in marine mammalogy, Jeanis was selected from applicants worldwide for a two-year internship with The JASON Project.

“Taking a student like Brittany into the field on a real science expedition not only stimulated her own passion for science, but also cast her as a role model for other students when she appears in JASON’s classroom curriculum,” Ballard said.

The video also compares and contrasts the ecosystems of the Chesapeake Bay and Galveston Bay, Westgate said.

“Operation: Resilient Planet” includes cutting-edge curriculum to help science teachers transport students to Earth’s critical ecosystems to investigate nature’s strategies for regeneration, learn ecosystem management and understand their responsibility for protecting our ecological future.

Whether print and online editions, JASON curriculum units are designed to fit within school districts’ core curricula and can be adapted for use at higher or lower levels. Each unit is aligned to state and national science standards.

“Resilient Planet” is the second in JASON’s new curriculum line, following the award-winning weather unit, “Operation: Monster Storms” that Southeast Texas students participated in last year. Both units were developed in partnership with NOAA, NASA and National Geographic Society, JASON’s parent organization, and feature leading scientists working side by side with JASON students in the classroom and in an online global community.

“JASON curriculum units give every student an opportunity to join real science expeditions,” said Caleb Schutz, president of The JASON Project. “Our goal is to light the spark of inspiration.”
JASON’s inquiry-based curricula are grounded in the principle that students learn best when challenged to apply their knowledge to exciting, real-world scenarios. Compelling scientists, taped on location with student and teacher argonauts, come to life through videos, podcasts and webcasts, live chat sessions and educational computer games.

JASON is a nonprofit subsidiary of National Geographic Society. Since 1989, JASON has worked with NASA, NOAA, National Geographic and other organizations to develop inquiry-based science curricula and professional development based on their cutting-edge missions of exploration and discovery. Ballard, who today serves as chairman and chief scientist, founded JASON.
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