The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Hopkins a five-year, $7.4 million grant to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in Baltimore City schools through a partnership with the community that was announced on Tuesday. “Science and engineering are not collections of facts, they are human endeavors. As such, they involve many people coming together and collaborating to solve a problem or learn about our world,” Michael Falk, Associate Professor of Materials Science in the Whiting School of Engineering and principal investigator for STEM Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools (SABES), wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
The program aims to improve STEM education for 1,600 Baltimore students in grades 3-5 at nine schools in the Greater Homewood, Lower Park Heights and Highlandtown/Greektown areas. SABES will take a three-pronged approach to this goal during the first year of planning with community stakeholders, and in the next four years of implementation. The schools’ teachers will receive professional development guidance from Hopkins engineering faculty, and will carefully develop enhanced curricula.
Teachers will also meet regularly and visit each others’ classrooms. SABES’ most unique trait, however, is the largely community-oriented approach that it will take. Beyond curricular developments, the program will engage students with the sciences through their own neighborhoods.
“Research has emerged that STEM is more likely to be perceived as relevant to students if it is an integral part of the child’s world. Some students may have interactions with family members or community members who take part in science, technology, engineering or mathematics in their careers or hobbies, but many students in low income neighborhoods do not,” Falk wrote. Community interactions will take place in the form of after-school programs. Providers will help captivate students through hands-on science projects in their own neighborhoods. “By engaging in community-based inquiry-led projects, students can see how STEM is part of their own world rather than be asked to enter the sometimes abstract and foreign world of the professional scientist or engineer,” Falk wrote.
Additionally, students will have the opportunity to broaden the reach of their learning to their parents and others in the community twice a year through presentations at STEM recognition events.
The initial ideas behind this project are not new. They are based on a successful model established over the last two years between Hopkins and the Baltimore City Public Schools. “Dr. Falk came to us with the concern that not enough is being done in the areas of science and engineering in the elementary schools,” Katya Densiova, Co-PI of SABES and science coordinator for the Baltimore City Public School System, said.
Falk wanted to boost the elementary science programs all-around and particularly in the field of engineering. “My husband is an elementary school teacher in the Baltimore city schools, and I had some insight into the challenges facing city school students learning about science, technology and engineering in the face of high-stakes testing due to the No Child Left Behind law that pushed schools to emphasize math and language arts often at the expense of a broad education,” he wrote.
Based on the eagerness of both parties to continue working together to improve STEM education, they applied for a NSF grant under the Math and Science Partnership program. Densiova believes their proposal stood out for its community-based approach and the fact that it originated not from an educator, but rather a STEM professional.
“It’s an exciting very opportunity for our children,” Densiova said of the award.
Falk is also excited for the implications for students and teachers. “It will benefit Baltimore communities by improving the capacity of their teachers and schools. It will provide students with the opportunity to experience STEM as an integral part of their community and future. It will give Baltimore students a pathway to active participation in tomorrow’s high-tech industries,” he writes. Falk hopes to prepare students for the changing job market, which is now even more in search of people with science and math skills.
On the undergraduate level at Hopkins, this grant will offer new community-based partnership opportunities. “In particular we are hoping that engineering students can be involved in design projects where their clients are the students in these Baltimore city classrooms who need help implementing their ideas,” Salk wrote.
All involved in SABES hope that Baltimore students will benefit from more engagement with STEM subjects early in their education, and that this model will prove successful and adaptable on a national scale. “Our hope is that Baltimore can become a leader in STEM education as a community endeavor,” Falk wrote.