Getting real about math

New videos help teachers show kids how they’ll use it on the job

Posted on Nov 15, 2016 :: Education and Training
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Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

The New Manufacturing Alliance rolled out the red carpet in October for the second time for its celebrity guests — math and STEM teachers from around Northeast Wisconsin who had come to see the latest Get Real Math! videos.

The short videos provide a tool for math teachers faced with the perennial (and perennially frustrating) question, “Why do I need this math?” The alliance, which developed the videos with the help of educators serving on its K-12 task force, had such an overwhelming response to its first 14 videos that it produced nine more this year. The event drew about 250 guests from 60 Northeast Wisconsin school districts to the Meyer Theatre in Green Bay, says Ann Franz, director of the alliance.

Companies featured in the new videos are EMT International, Georgia-Pacific and Nercon. The new videos focus on middle- and high-school level problems involving aspects such as ratios, perimeters and circumferences. The alliance offers the videos free with accompanying lesson plans on its website.

Sondra LaCoy, corporate human resources manager for Nercon, a manufacturer of industrial conveyor belts, wrote the scripts for her company’s videos — one of which features a spiral, multi-floor conveyor called the Spirex.

“We really tried to find something that included that piece of equipment, because it’s really cool,” LaCoy says. “It has a lot of curb appeal. Where we struggled a little bit was the math that’s involved is pretty complex.”

So LaCoy discussed the issue with Andrew Rottier, a research and development engineer and 2017 New Manufacturing Alliance All Star, and came up with a problem that targets middle schoolers, focusing on the length of the conveyor belt. The scenario involves a bakery that must find a way to get its product from an oven in a basement to a store on the second floor, allowing enough cooling time for the cookies along the way. The problem calculates circumference, height and number of turns.

Nercon’s other new videos feature tougher problems involving the Pythagorean theorem and arc lengths. Each video offers “breaks” during which students have time to work on or discuss problems.

“What we find in manufacturing — whether it’s assembly or engineering — math is really the basis for so many occupations,” LaCoy says. “So we find it extremely important that kids have those basic math skills.”

The types of mathematical problems were developed by the Math Council, a subgroup of the K-12 task force, says Andy Bushmaker, senior human resources manager for KI, chair of the K-12 task force and a star of an early Get Real Math! video. Bushmaker says most of this year’s videos were geared toward high school students.

Besides learning “What do cookies have to do with math?” students will also learn from Georgia-Pacific what toilet paper has to do with math (and how many rolls it would take to circle the earth). EMT International presented a problem related to punching holes in notebook paper.

The feedback from educators has been overwhelming and positive, Franz says. “At one of the (Math Council) meetings, one educator stated, ‘I actually had a student raise their hand after viewing the video and said, ‘I really am going to use this in the real world!’”

The 2016 videos cost about $3,000 for each company to produce. Nercon won a drawing during the Get Real Math! premiere for a new set of three videos to be made in 2017, funded by the alliance. Three other companies will produce videos in 2017, for a total of 12 new math videos, Franz says.

An additional benefit of the videos — besides making math relevant in students’ eyes — is showing what really goes on inside a manufacturing plant.

LaCoy says a national survey of parents with school-age children discovered that although parents believed manufacturing was important to the economy, they wouldn’t encourage their kids to pursue a manufacturing career. There are persisting misconceptions about manufacturing, such as that it’s a dirty job, low-paying and without security.

“I think part of the goal is not only getting math skills to those students, but letting them know the level of sophistication in modern manufacturing,” LaCoy says.

The alliance was developed 10 years ago with a mission of helping to change the image of manufacturing and to showcase modern facilities that need an increasingly tech-savvy workforce. The videos are one way to feature local manufacturers.

“From a manufacturer perspective, that’s the ‘win’ part for us,” Bushmaker says. “It does highlight manufacturing careers. And it’s a ‘win’ for the teacher because it helps them answer that (relevancy) question.”