Over the past 25 years, America's number of nonacademic science and engineering jobs has increased 159 percent and with an aging workforce nearing retirement, more jobs will open up, according to District 833 curriculum advisers.

To better prepare students for additional schooling in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the district is testing out new science courses this fall at Woodbury and Oltman junior high schools.

The new Gateway to Technology courses, approved by the school board Feb. 28, were presented by Mary Ryerse, district director of curriculum and instruction, and Travis Barringer, math and science coordinator.

"I commend you," said board member Jim Gelbmann. "We are losing our competitive edge because of a lack of interest in science. Minnesota is no longer the leader it used to be."

A $60,000 start-up grant from 3M and money for teacher training through an advanced placement readiness grant, the district's technology department and the curriculum and instruction department, is helping to get the new initiative off and running, according to Ryerse.

This fall, all eighth-graders will take Gateway's design and modeling course.

This unit uses a very sophisticated mathematical technique to represent solid objects and introduce students to the design process and how it has influenced their lives.

Students also learn sketching techniques and descriptive geometry as part of design, measurement and computer modeling to solve problems, according to Ryerse.

Gateway's flight and space and science of technology courses will be offered as electives for eighth- and ninth-graders, replace exploring technology 2, technology applications and technology systems, currently offered.

Studies of Gateway program effectiveness show students have a high interest in the courses.

"They found that students who participate are more likely to seek out science programs in high school," Barringer said.

Gateway programs are activity-oriented to show students how technology is used to solve everyday problems, Ryerse said.

Current science lab equipment will be replaced as part of initiating the program, she said.

Six science teachers are being sent to Mankato State University this summer for training.

"Once the staff and classrooms are in place, the opportunity to provide this high-quality program before school, after school and during summer sessions is being planned," she said.

In the changeover to middle school in 2009-2010, it's proposed that all students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades take the same courses and electives.

Board member Leslee Boyd asked how the new science courses will integrate into what's planned.

Gateway, and the district, have several models to consider that would fit with a middle school curriculum, Barringer said.