Based on his experience as a longtime teacher and cross-country coach, Mark Ulman knows that students perform best when they’re inspired and challenged. And if the kids can have fun at the same time, that’s an extra-special bonus.
Mark has taught economics, history, sociology and geography at Maple River High School, near Mankato, for the past 13 years. As part of his curriculum, he’s incorporated the computer-based JA Titan program into his classes for the past decade.
“Back in 2004, I was contacted by JA and they were looking for volunteers to bring students into Mankato for a business simulation competition, the JA Titan program,” Mark says. “I think it was the first year that they had done that. We took three teams [to Mankato] and had the kids compete and they really liked it.”
With the JA Titan program, students engage in a computer simulation that allows them to price, market and sell a product called a hologram generator. As part of the game, students learn how to best position their product in the marketplace.
“The way that I’ve structured this in my classroom is I have the students compete against each other to come up with the top three teams that we take to the Mankato competition,” Mark says. “The whole senior class competes for those top three spots to go to the regional competition. Since 2004, I think we’ve had kids go on to the state competition every year but three. It’s been a big thing and the kids really appreciate it.”
A unique way that the Maple River school system recognizes the academic aspect of the JA program is through a banquet at the end of the year.
“We have what we call a Triple A banquet which recognizes arts, athletics and academics,” Mark says. “It’s very well attended and a lot of emphasis is put on it [by the school.] Through that, I recognize the students who participated at the state level through JA Titan. A lot of times when they go that far, they also receive local level scholarship monies. We also have a dedicated page in the yearbook every year that recognizes the JA Titan participants. That’s been fun because it puts a big emphasis on the academic side of things.”
Mark believes JA Titan provides numerous benefits to students. In fact, Mark volunteered to travel downstate to the Marshall school district to discuss his experiences with teachers in that area.
“When I went down to Marshall, I found that some of the teachers were a little bit concerned about perhaps not having the skill set to do a game simulation,” he recalls. “I walked them through how to incorporate JA Titan into the classroom and explained that you really don’t have to be a ‘gamer’ to use it. After that, I think a lot of the mystique about incorporating it really went away.”
Beginning next school year, Mark will be making a change, moving to nearby Mankato East High School to teach economics. He’s excited about the move, and he hopes to continue making JA Titan an integral part of his classes.
“To be able to incorporate the things that we learn in class into a competition really appeals to students,” Mark says. “There is a lot of overlap between the discussions we have in class, as well as with the overall concepts.”