This field trip was a STEM-winder

KOHLER – One of the challenges of teaching is to convince students that what they’re being taught will be relevant to the rest of their life.

For a group of St. John the Baptist Catholic School eighth-graders, that challenge was met Thursday morning in a tour of the Kohler Co. facilities.

For student Caitlin Kruschke, the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) sponsored tour of the county’s largest manufacturing plant brought home an important lesson about what she’s learned of those subjects in school so far: “That it’s not useless.”

That was the kind of insight SJB science teacher Dan McMullen admitted he was aiming for with the tour.

“It’s real important for them to see that put into a real-life situation,” McMullen said of the 23 eighth-graders on the tour. “The stuff they learn in physical science and earth science, all these things we talked about, it’s neat to see it come to life here.”

Kohler Co. hosts the annual tours for eighth-graders from schools throughout the county in an effort not only to show them how what they are learning applies in real-world jobs as well as life, but also in an effort to recruit them into careers in any of the STEM fields.

The two-hour-plus tour encompassed everything from research and design to testing to manufacturing and even to packaging.

Along the way, the students got to see how the company uses computers, models and even 3-D printers and robotics to develop new products and improve existing products.

And it made an impact.

“We learned the whole process, how many steps there are, all the science and math that’s involved in making all of this,” eighth-grader Alex Heun commented after the tour concluded.

He and his classmates peppered Kohler associates in the various departments with questions about what they do and how that fits into the entire process, stretching the tour out beyond its allotted two-hour length.

There were lighter moments sprinkled in, such as Kan Kapal in the product lab demonstrating how he and his associates test toilet functions using simulated material – and yes, the students got to try, successfully, to plug a Kohler toilet.

Henry Ramirez in robotics showed the students the utility of robots in manufacturing and how video game controls are analogous to controlling robots.

Chad Cochart related how new product development at Kohler utilizes the same scientific method of questions and answers that the students use in their science laboratory experiments.

And in the pottery shop, Terry Couch showed that even color and art come into play at a company like Kohler.

For McMullen, the opportunity to explore the many facets of science in real-life situations right down the road from his classroom was an opportunity not to be missed.

“For some of these students who like math and science maybe a little more than the others, it really gets them excited about it. And for the rest, at least they were exposed to it and they might come back to it some other day,” he summarized.

For most, however, that lesson seemed to have been learned Thursday.

“It was cool to see that everything we’ve learned in school we’ll be able to use later on,” was Caitlin McEvoy’s observation.

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