While most students were on summer break this year, 32 rising seniors from two Baltimore City high schools spent five weeks studying mathematics and exploring STEM careers.
The students from Digital Harbor and Forest Park high schools formed the first cohort of a new variation of STEM Core – the intensive, personalized education program that helps students build their math skills and pursue STEM careers. The program was a joint effort by Growth Sector, Baltimore City Public Schools, Baltimore City Community College, The Abell Foundation and the Fort Meade Alliance.
“The original STEM Core was designed for entry level college students,” said Penny Cantwell, Chair of the FMA’s Education Committee. “The program has been very successful at the Community College of Baltimore County, so the Baltimore City group morphed it into a program for high school students. They felt if students started earlier, they could get a leg up on their education.”
For three hours every morning, students attended Math 86 (introductory algebra) classes taught by high school and community college instructors. In an Accuplacer test at the outset of the program, more than 90 percent of the students placed two levels be-low college-level math skills. However, students’ math skills and confidence improved markedly during the summer, said Melissa Huch, a STEM Core Specialist with Growth Sector. STEM Core students will complete additional algebra, calculus and trigonometry courses throughout the school year and next summer.
“We are already hearing from some of the parents that their kids are feeling more confident about math and college. Before the program, the prospect of college courses was scary to them,” she said.
During the summer program, students met with professionals in a variety of STEM careers. Those interactions, Huch said, opened students’ eyes to some new possibilities.
“We have some students who are interested in visual art and graphic design, and they couldn’t see how that turned into a job in the real world,” she said.
A session with The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, however, included a discussion of real-world applications of virtual reality technology and an opportunity to don VR goggles. The visual arts students recognized a career opportunity in that demonstration and started exploring training options through the Maryland Institute College of Art, Huch said.
Students also engaged in project based learning. Marie Weber, a Systems Engineer with Lockheed Martin, gave a presentation about Lockheed Martin’s exoskeleton project then challenged the students to prototype a tricky addition to the technology, namely a way to attach the exoskeleton to the wearer’s shoe.
“It was a really cool experience for them with the super powers of an exoskeleton,” Weber said.
Working in teams throughout July, students brainstormed ideas, built prototypes and ran tests, sometimes with unsuccessful results.
“We try to stress that there is no failure, just iterations,” Weber said. “You try, you learn from it, and then you try again.”
In addition to learning about the process of innovating, students gained skills in team-work and communication as they worked towards an end-of-July deadline to complete a prototype and do a class presentation.