Connecting school with careers

Educators at Winget Park Elementary used the Feb. 7 early release day to learn how the principles they teach in the classroom are applied in the real world.

All teachers and teacher assistants could tour one of four Charlotte companies – Chiron America Inc., Pfaff Molds L.P., Red Ventures and Siemens Energy Inc. – to see science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at work. Participants in each group represented different grade levels and specialties. The goal was for them to learn and share that knowledge with their colleagues.

"Seeing the opportunities that our students have for future careers can help teachers to better translate the 'why' behind some of the things they need to learn," said teacher Emily Warnke, who arranged the field trips.

This is Winget Park's first year as a STEM magnet program. The field trips are just one of the activities planned to increase STEM knowledge at the school. About 35 members of the business community spoke about their STEM careers with third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students in the first two weeks of February. Principal Rick Mohrien said visits also are planned to other successful STEM schools in the district to learn how to enhance Winget Park's program.

Mohrien said teachers, students and parents support the transition and the community is aligned with the vision of STEM as a way of thinking and learning. He said the school is committed to building strong community relationships and learning what instruction students will need for professions that may not yet exist.

"We know that it's not enough to tell students and teachers about what STEM looks like outside the school – they need to see it," Mohrien said. "The field trips for our teachers and the speakers for our students are just the beginning of this. We look forward to continuing to build this partnership and see where it takes us as a school."

Warnke and teacher Sierra Gould toured Pfaff Molds, which designs and makes injection molds for automotive companies such as Tesla and BMW. The molds are for connection points along door and window seals that keep out air and moisture.

2.15.18.Winget.Pfaff_inside pic.jpg"A fourth-grader might not understand why they need to learn fractions," Warnke said. "It is much more powerful to have an example of creating a mold for a car part that needs to be within 1/64th of an inch than to just say, 'You will need it in the future.'"

Gould observed a Pfaff employee using coding to run several machines. "I like to use coding with my students and my mind flooded with ideas that I could use in my classroom," she said. "I have a new outlook on coding as an essential subject for my students."

Academic facilitator Jill Barclay said it was an incredible experience to be able to bridge STEM from work to school. At Red Ventures, she learned how the company gathers feedback and makes adjustments in order to serve its customers.

"As a STEM school, we talk about the significance of team-building, creativity, innovation and collaboration; however, I'm not sure how much we discuss the importance of adaptability," she said. "Students need to be able to adapt. It's about being able to pivot, act on your feet and be comfortable being uncomfortable."

Teacher Adrian Austin toured Siemens and said the knowledge the teachers have gained will help them work together to simulate real-life career problems in the classroom.

"We aren't just working with students anymore – we are working with mathematicians, problem solvers, critical thinkers and creative thinkers," she said. "It really shed a light on how we are now responsible for teaching students how to learn, not just what to learn."

Teamwork and collaboration were important aspects that teacher Karen Sanders observed at Chiron. The company refurbishes broken and obsolete machines by taking them apart, cleaning and updating them. The process can include designing new parts and take from one day to one year to complete. She said each employee has a part to play and cooperation is essential.

"My students need to learn to get along and be friendly toward others, even when their opinions aren't the same," she said. "They need to be able to defend their opinion as well as receive the opinions of others while thinking out of the box. Students also need to incorporate a clean, organized format of their plan, tools and workspace. Cooperation, cleanliness and productive work that resolves real-world problems is the key to the business and manufacturing worlds of today."