Getting Keyed Up About Math with Injection Molding

Starting kids' love of math and other STEM-related curriculum in grade school is what everyone agrees needs to happen so that they will gain an appreciation for careers in manufacturing. Mary and Marty Key are doing it.


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Everyone in this industry agrees that the sooner you expose kids to the idea of manufacturing as a career, the better. We all know that part of that process has to be getting kids excited about mathematics and other STEM-related curriculum while they're in middle school. Well, Mary and Marty Key are doing it by establishing a new program called Key Up Education.

I wrote about the Keys last April (my blog can be found here), when Mary, a teacher at the Chatham Charter School in Siler City, North Carolina, and her husband Marty, an RJG Inc. trainer and consultant, put together a unique STEM field trip to RJG's Gibsonville facility for Mary's third-grade class to learn how math is used in everyday situations, including the plastics and injection molding industry. Since that time, I've learned that the Keys have launched their new program to further develop a way to expose more young students, their teachers and parents, to careers in manufacturing.
"The first field trip was an inspiration," Mary told me during a recent interview with her and Marty. "Once that initial field trip took place, it was like there was a completely different set of kids in my classroom. It wasn’t even just the field trip, but leading up to it – the excitement." Word got around, fast, she said. Not only that, Mary's students, who typically would do very well in their end-of-grade tests in the area of reading, but not as well in math, instead scored higher in math this year. From all the buzz that resulted from the field trip, she said she had to find a way to let more of the other kids she had contact with involved in the concept. "It was a huge difference, not just in their performance on the tests, but in their investment in math, their interest in math, considering things like engineering careers, and so on," she said. "To see that, by applying what they were learning in math class to real-world manufacturing, they were interested in math and not shying away from it at this point showed us that we needed to continue with this plan and work on what the field trip model needs to look like as we move forward, and that’s where Key Up Education came from."
RJG has been very supportive of the effort, the Keys said. "The team at RJG thought from an industry perspective that it’s so difficult to get well-trained people. How do we address that need and make students and parents aware that manufacturing is cool – it’s so different today," Marty said. "There’s robotics, automation, controls that look like iPads. The market is going toward this, but we gotta get the kids in here to see it up close."
The latest STEM field trip, or camp, was held at RJG's North Carolina facility on June 10 and 17. Twenty-five kids from four local grade schools participated in the two-hour camps, including six middle school and high school students who acted as mentors in order to get hands-on experience and assist the younger students. They also earned volunteer hours that they can add to their college applications, Mary said. During the camps, the students were able to hold and look at various parts of the injection molding machine, feed plastic pellets into the hopper and watch as the machine produced parts. After camp, the parents visited the lab so that their children could show them around the machines and share with them what they learned.
The mentors are also acting as consultants, and are helping develop future classes geared toward older students, including producing videos about what they have learned by participating at RJG that will help inform others about the opportunities in the Key Up Education program. 
"We fight an uphill battle in the classroom," Mary told me. "When we were kids we watched programs like Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood who would go into a company or workshop and show kids where things they used every day came from. These types of programs are not as available to kids now. What is out there isn't very mainstream and kids can't relate to them. They can't see the big picture."
I'll be keeping in touch with the Keys and blogging about new updates as they come. I haven't heard of many grade-school-level programs like this and so it's very exciting to see what will happen in the future. Find out more about Key Up Education by visiting their website.