NC math, science teachers see the real thing on Charlotte tours

When students ask “Why do we need to learn this?” in their math and science classes next year, dozens of teachers will have answers.

Almost 200 teachers visited 13 Charlotte-area employers Monday to see science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, skills in action. The workplace tours were organized by N.C. New Schools, a Raleigh-based public-private effort aimed at promoting school innovation to increase students’ college and career readiness.

Monday’s event is a lead-in to a three-day N.C. New Schools summer institute in Concord, which is expected to attract more than 800 educators.

Hosts ranged from the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis and Duke Energy’s McGuire Nuclear Station to Charlotte’s Coca-Cola bottling plant.

At the Coke plant, teachers learned about the physics of machines that can screw on up to 900 bottle caps a minute, the process used to mix 51 flavors of soft drinks and the chemistry involved in creating plastic bottles that hold in the carbon dioxide that gives drinks their fizz.

“Wow. Just wow,” said David Jenkins, a teacher at Lenoir County Early College High School. He had proudly claimed a Sprite can that didn’t have the top crimped on, part of a demonstration on how drinks are canned.

His colleague Sarah Wall was struck by how few workers she saw on assembly lines where everything from mixing flavors to sanitizing tanks is automated. “Where are all the people?” she asked.

Quality assurance manager Jimmy Hassler told her the plant is even designing an “electronic nose” that will replace human “sensory panels” by analyzing volatile compounds and picking up odors undetectable to most people.

Wall asked about the most important job skill.

“Good mathematics is always the key,” Hassler said.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer