Baltimore City students engineer creative solutions to make their neighborhoods better

May 4, 2017

Joseph Barnes and his classmates at Highlandtown Elementary/Middle School saw a problem in their neighborhood—and smelled it too: people weren’t picking up after their dogs.

They used science to try to fix it, creating a poop-scooping robot that they showed off Wednesday night at a showcase for such inventions, the culmination of a five-year pilot program created by Johns Hopkins University to strengthen science, technology, engineering, and math education. The program is called STEM Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools, or SABES.

Robot to help clean sidewalks

Third-grader Joseph Barnes developed a robot to help clean up his neighborhood sidewalks. (Image: Jill Rosen)

“I made stuff before, but I was very young and I didn’t understand that much until I got with SABES,” said Joseph, a third-grader. “SABES made me better at building things, and it made me understand what I could do.”

With a $7.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation in 2012, the Johns Hopkins schools of Engineering and Education teamed up with Baltimore City Public Schools to launch the pilot, which involved a three-pronged approach.

First, thoroughly train teachers in best practices. Then, give students a rigorous, engaging, and hands-on curriculum. And finally, bolster what’s learned in the classroom with after-school programming that shows students how science can affect their neighborhoods and their lives.

This is the fifth and final year of the pilot, which has reached more than 2,200 Baltimore students and trained 147 city teachers. Research suggests students who’ve taken the program are more confident and interested in science and engineering. For instance, after completing the program, the number of students interested in becoming an engineer jumped 27 percent.

“The results show kids are becoming better critical thinkers and they really understand the engineering process,” said Christine Newman, assistant dean of engineering educational outreach at Johns Hopkins. “In the program, they try and fail and improve and succeed. And that gives them the resilience they need in other parts of their lives.”

Excerpted from The Hub. 

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