WisBusiness: Minnesota program turns kids on to math, science, engineering

By Brian E. Clark

Wisconsin universities and colleges are graduating only two-thirds of the science and engineering students that the state’s industries need each year, business leaders told more than 400 people attending the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs Conference today in Milwaukee.

To help fill that gap, schools need more programs like the one created by Minnesota high school teacher Tim Jump, whose pre-engineering curriculum has turned kids onto math, science and technology while winning international robotics contests and besting competitors doing doctoral work.

“If we don’t encourage creativity, our economy will stagnate,” said Jump, whose Advanced Competitive Science program at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in suburban Minneapolis was designed to encourage “entrepreneurial thinking.”

Unfortunately, Jump said, most schools teach students by getting them to regurgitate facts and theories, often at the expense of boring them and in the process, turning many off to science, math and other technical fields.

But by using open-ended projects, Jump said he has been able to spark student’s imaginations and turn them into innovators who often operate independent of teacher initiated direction.

“It intensifies their desire to explore,” said Jump. “They come back to class at the end of the day. Sometimes I literally can’t get them to go home.”

And in the process of designing tools and processes, students learn applied math, mechanical and electrical engineering, how to make sophisticated control systems and how to work in teams. Moreover, they also learn how to communicate with vendors and other professionals.

“They get hungry, they ask what’s next and then the ball is rolling,” he said.

Though college students scoffed at his pupils when they entered a contest called the “Robo Cup,” he said easily won the competition for the Western Hemisphere and ended up 10th in the international rankings in large part because they had not only theoretical, but practical experience gained from their own robots.

Jump also said his program has had great success with young women, who make up 40 percent of the enrollment.

The teacher said nearly a quarter of the 900 students at the parochial school are now involved in the engineering program. The next step, he said, is to expand it to other school systems around the country.