NEW Manufacturing Alliance video series answers an age-old question

The Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance has created an educational video series on mathematics which answers the age-old question, “When will I use this in real life?”

The NEW Alliance got its start in 2006 with the goal of improving the image of manufacturing careers in northeast Wisconsin, and now has more than 200 member groups throughout the state. It includes task forces staffed by science and math teachers from the region.

It’s “Get Real Math” program, produced in partnership with furniture manufacturer KI and other companies and technical colleges, was started about four years ago. Since then, it has created 23 informative videos on topics ranging from how math is used in making toilet paper, to using fractions to plan out the ingredients for a fresh batch of cheese.

The videos were created in hopes of better preparing students for math-related manufacturing and machining jobs as part of a concerted effort to fight against the “workforce gap.”

Ann Franz, coordinator of the NEW Alliance, says the videos meet the needs of two different groups: employers who want to show off the different careers they offer, and schools that want to show students how math skills can be used in real-world manufacturing jobs.

Educators see direct impact of using the “Get Real Math” videos in their classrooms, according to Franz, who says the videos “really resonate with teachers.”

They are used by instructors of grade 5-9 students, and have intermittent breaks for teachers to step in and help work through the problem. Each video, which comes with lesson plans teachers can use in tandem with the video, ties in specific math skills with a real world example, such as using conversion of standard and metric measurements to set up a robotic arm used in welding. They are free for anyone to view and use.

“We are developing critical thinking skills, helping them figure out what needs to be known,” Franz said. She says a major benefit of the program is getting kids to understand that information will not be handed to them–they need to take action to figure the problem out.

“The nice thing about the videos is the practical applications for math, which helps teachers answer questions and introduces kids to the world of manufacturing,” said Andy Bushmaker, senior human resources manager for KI.

And that world is varied and complex, he says.

“They open them up to many different manufacturing industries,” Bushmaker said. “We are not all the same.”

The videos are created with the input of NEW Alliance’s math council, a group of 25 math teachers that meet twice a year to provide input on curriculum, ensuring the videos cover proficiencies that are often used in STEM fields.

“There’s been a real element of improvement since we started,” Bushmaker said. “Since the first videos, we have developed the Math Council and honed in on what we should be doing.”

Over 70 different school districts are in the region, and close to 70 percent of them have been touched by the series, according to Bushmaker.

While KI has worked on five of the 23 videos, other companies such as Sargento Cheese, Georgia Pacific, Robinson Metals and EMT International have been involved with others. One of the upcoming videos will feature Marinette Marine, where the U.S. Navy’s Freedom-class littoral combat ship is being built.

Watch the videos here:

–By Alex Moe