The passion that Martha Rush has for both teaching and kids soon becomes evident as her words tumble out on top of each other during a conversation.
“Yep, I love it,” she says about her 16-year teaching career in the Mounds View school system. “I love the interaction with the kids. I love seeing something work and really click in their minds. That’s a lot of fun.”
Rush teaches 9th through 12th grade students at Mounds View, with a heavy emphasis on economics classes. Her goal is to teach students about how economic business principles—both on a micro- and macro level—influence and affect their lives.
One innovative way Rush has found to bring the realities of economics home to her students is through Junior Achievement’s Titan business simulation game.
“One summer four or five years ago, I attended a education conference where one of their sessions was on the Titan program. I thought, ‘Well that sounds fun,’ so I went. I found I was personally not very good at the game,” she laughs, “but I thought, ‘Wow, this is great! This takes all these things we try to teach in our economics classes, concepts like average total cost and marginal cost and capital investment, and it puts them into a real setting. I was hooked.”
Rush returned to her classroom and shared details about the JA program with her fellow teachers, who were also impressed. That fall, the teachers started taking their 9th graders on field trips to the JAUM headquarters to play the game, and to get firsthand experience running a virtual business.
Rush describes the Titan experience like this:
“The kids sit down at a computer and the simulation tells them, ‘You will be making a product called a Holo Generator, which creates a holographic image that allows viewers to watch TV in three dimensions.’ It’s kind of like a Star Wars thing,” she says. “However, the students are also competing in a market where everybody is producing holo generators, so they need to decide how they’re going to differentiate their product.”
Student players can select a variety of options in an effort to stand out over their competition, which might include investing money and research into features like “smell-a-vision,” where viewers would actually smell what’s going on onscreen.
In a nutshell, Titan players have to develop strategies for dealing with different economic and competitive situations. At the same time, five to seven other teams in the competition are doing the same thing.
“The computer then runs the simulation based on the different inputs and lets the players know, ‘your price was too high compared to your competitors, so you didn’t get a very large market share,’ or ‘these people advertised more’ or whatever,” Rush says.
The program has proved wildly successful and extremely popular with students. In fact, last August, a group of four Mounds View students advanced in a Titan competition to the international level, where they won second-place.
“The kids love it,” she adds. “And you know, it was funny. My son Ben was a freshman here the year that we first did Titan. My son and his friends, they were very into basketball, they were very into football, [but] at that point, they were not very into school. I thought they’re going to really like this game, and sure enough! It wasn’t just my son and his friends who loved it, but tons of kids. It was fun to see the interest that it sparked.”
In fact, Rush chuckles again when she talks about how son Ben began to take a more active interest in business subjects over the rest of his high school career. He graduated in the spring of 2012, and is now a freshman at Dartmouth College—with plans to study economics and finance.
This year, Rush is also excited about being able to add the JA Company program to the school, and she’s confident that the kids will enjoy that as much as they have the Titan program.
“Last year I went to the JA dinner to honor the laureates and the JA company team from the High School for Performing Visual Arts in St. Paul was there. We saw a little clip about their competition and business, and I thought, ‘You know, I bet our students would enjoy that too.’ And when I mentioned it to the kids, I got a very, very positive reaction.
“We’re going to attempt to have two companies in our school this year, with help from a sponsorship from Medtronic,” she says. “One company will be selling something called ‘ooblek,’ which is basically cornstarch and water. [The mixture comes from a common science experiment that demonstrates the principle of a non-Newtonian fluid, in that it changes from a liquid to a solid under pressure.] And our other company is made up of kids who are interested in graphic design products, so we’re kind of putting them together as one company.”
Rush says that the concrete assistance and education that the JA programs bring into her school make it both easier and more fun for students to learn practical business lessons and gain exposure to critical financial concepts.
“I really appreciate all the people in the business community who support JA, because it is an excellent program,” Rush says. “The fact that it’s available to the schools for free or at very low cost is amazing. It’s just a great resource and all the teachers who use JA materials really appreciate everything that’s provided.”