Jason Osborne, Chief Innovation Officer of Ector County (Texas) Independent School District, focuses on exposing all students to high-level sciences.

Dec 19 2019

Q&A: Jason Osborne on How to Help K–12 Students Discover the World of Science

This chief innovation officer is on a mission to give all students in his Texas district access to high-level sciences, and he’s helping other K–12 districts do the same.

Jason Osborne is on a mission to give all students in his district access to high-level sciences, and he’s helping other K–12 districts to do the same.

As chief innovation officer of Ector County Independent School District in Texas, Osborne is known for his efforts to increase science literacy and expose K–12 students to high-level sciences, such as bioengineering. He started Pick Education, which includes a network of universities, businesses and other organizations that collaborate to offer students opportunities in the sciences. Osborne is also president and co-founder of the nonprofit citizen-scientist organization Paleo Quest. He was honored at the White House as a Champion of Change in 2013.

MORE FROM EDTECH: How students use ed tech to further their STEM education.

Osborne talked with EdTech: Focus on K–12 about the value of exposing all students to high-level sciences.

EDTECH: What sparked your interest in introducing students to higher-level sciences?

OSBORNE: I grew up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania, and the closest town was about 176 people. I didn’t have a lot of resources. When I graduated high school, I discovered a whole world of opportunities. One of my passions is to bring that world to students, to open up those doors. 

I was very lucky. I was pretty successful in many different facets, from doing aerospace defense work to engineering at a neuroscience institute, working with Nobel laureates and some of the best scientists in the world, as well as exploring paleontology. Some of the work I’ve done has been featured on National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, NPR and many other media outlets.

When I was working with a National Geographic affiliate, I spent a lot of time in school systems, and a lot of those school systems were in Texas, so I was really familiar with what was being taught and also what was missing in education. A lot of what was missing was that real-world connection where kids could actually be an extension of research and help drive research questions. I decided to go down the path of K–12 education. 

MORE FROM EDTECH: 10 keys to the future of STEAM education.

EDTECH: What are some ways that students benefit from exposure to high-level sciences?

OSBORNE: The chances of students getting full rides or partial scholarships are much higher. Some of our kids are going to leave high school with experience as advanced as post-doc research. For example, we’re rolling out a virtual solution where kids can do data processing in virtual reality. We’re working with a particular software that is taking advanced images and we’re able to upload those up into a VR system, and kids can go in and trace neurons and brain cell tissue or possibly look at stem cell data. Some research labs don’t even have access to this software, so our kids could possibly be driving research. That lends itself to students putting some fascinating descriptors on their resume. 

Jason Osborne
Kids can really drive the future of the world."

Jason Osborne Chief Innovation Officer, Ector County Independent School District (Texas)

EDTECH: What does the work of providing those opportunities look like for your students?

OSBORNE: Students as young as kindergarten are exposed to neuroscience. I mean, it’s crazy stuff, but elementary campuses are doing that in our district. We converted a portable classroom into a vivarium where they do animal husbandry. K–5 students raise hundreds of cockroaches in order to do surgery and electrophysiology, so they can see how neurons fire when they tickle a cockroach leg. There are protocols on how to take care of them, how to do surgery, how to anesthetize, and how to do the neuro- physiology. 

Another example is our career and technical education students, who often are working toward certifications versus a four-year college degree. It’s just as important to give them the opportunity to do stem cell research as it is for International Baccalaureate students. When we roll out some of these sophisticated course options, they can be translated into Advanced Placement classes if needed, or they can be translated into CTE. 

EDTECH: How do researchers and universities benefit from partnering with K–12 schools for real-world research opportunities?

OSBORNE: Most laboratories are small, and a lot of them aren’t really well funded. Last year, I had almost 3,000 K–5 citizen scientists doing data processing of microfossil sampling. What lab in the world has 3,000 lab workers who can do that? No one. 

Kids can really drive the future of the world. They can participate in this stuff. It’s our obligation as educators to give them the opportunity to do that and to really make an impact. Students may or may not choose to go down that career path, but at least they have that knowledge base to decide which path they want to go down. If they’re not exposed to it, they don’t know what they don’t know. 

EDTECH: Why is it important for all students to have access to higher-level sciences?

OSBORNE: Think about the kid who is brilliant and is sitting in a corner, just because they’re not really outgoing — maybe they’re just a little shy, maybe they haven’t found their connection or they’re just extremely bored. I was that bored kid. I just hated school with a passion. But as soon as I did something that was hands-on and inquiry-based, and I could discover, I was completely hooked. I see a lot of that in our students nowadays. They’re just disconnected. They’re bored.

We’re trying to enhance students’ natural curiosity and have them do real hands-on learning with real data. Even at a very young age, if students have something that they’re naturally curious about, they get excited, the teachers get excited, and the ownership of learning is amplified.

All kids should have equal opportunities to be successful.

Hoyoung Lee

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