Christensen, a native of Holstein, continued his education at Northwestern College in Orange City, earning a Bachelor's degree in social science and elementary education.
He began his teaching career in 1979. Christensen's use of innovative science learning projects were loved by his students.
It is in the classroom where Jim really makes his mark. Applying what he had learned at a teacher workshop held at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, he set up a project for his students which required them to work in teams to develop a plan for living on the planet Mars.
For the Mars-Base Project, students shared their work with two partner schools over Iowa's Community Network, the first statewide two-way audio-visual network in the nation.
This was the first use of this network by elementary students. Later that year, Sony asked him to re-create this and other similar demonstrations as models for other teachers using telecommunications networks. These were also presented at the National Governor's Conference and the National Science Teachers Convention. For this work, our honoree was presented the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching along with a $9,000 grant. He was also named to the Governor's Leadership Council on Education.
In the midst of his teaching duties, he began working summers as coordinator of NASA's Educator's Workshop at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. His Mars-Base project was shared with educators across the nation as well as in the country of Wales.
He was also employed by the Western Hills Area Education Agency in Sioux City as a science specialist and technology consultant. He also wrote a proposal that resulted in that agency being selected to house the NASA Educational Resource Center for the state of Iowa. Also, he promoted a science center for the agency, which stores and refurbishes over 200 hands-on science kits used by schools in Northwest Iowa.
In 1999, NASA convinced him to work for them half-time out of Houston in helping astronauts better know how to communicate with students about their missions and their science topics related to their work. He has written two experiments that have been selected for use on NASA's Zero-Gravity Plane.
Christensen will tell of his experiences promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics career fields with students through his association with the Space Settlement Design Competitions (SSDC) programs.
Christensen has traveled twice to India, worked with students from around the world, and has also brought Pakistani students to Northwest Iowa.