Support sought for STEM education in Baltimore City Public Schools

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Today, too many children don’t include scientist or engineer in their list of potential future occupations. Most recently, the Governor’s STEM Task Force released a report with seven recommendations for the State to get behind STEM education and workforce development.

A quality STEM education today is critical for the development of tomorrow’s workforce. As part of the series highlighting the Education and Workforce committee’s Prek-12 subcommittee focus on after school programming, two important presentations fit perfectly with exposing our youth to math, science and technology in a hands-on approach.

Starting this year, the Baltimore City Public School System will be introducing a new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) program in the third grade through a program, called the Safe Racer. The Safe Racer, one of 13 Maryland Engineering Challenges, was created by a collaboration of the Baltimore Museum of Industry (BMI), the Engineering Society of Baltimore and the engineering firm Whitney Bailey Cox and Magnani. The goal of the Engineering Challenges at the BMI is “to introduce young people to the role of the engineer in today’s society and help them connect what they learn in the classroom to “real world” engineering concepts.”

Starting in 2010, over 13,000 children per year in the Baltimore region will be actively participating in this Engineering Challenge. Currently over 7,000 third-grade children per year participate in the team-oriented challenge in Baltimore County Public Schools. Here’s how it works: Each third grader will work in a team to design and build a Safe Racer. The teams must:
• Design and build a model race car, containing a fragile raw-egg “driver” which plunges down a 30-degree ramp and crashes into a barrier. The egg must not crack in the crash.
• The car then runs down the ramp (without the barrier) and across the floor. The distance traveled is measured.
• The challenge requires a written and oral report by the student team.
• Judges carefully examine the cars and question team members about the science and design decisions they made in engineering their entry
• Winning the competition (like real life) is based on car performance and the written and oral reports.

Does it work? Just ask the University of Maryland, School of Engineering and the National Academy of Engineering.

• At College Park every engineering freshman (750 per year) takes the course Introduction to Engineering Design. In this course they compete in a team-oriented challenge to design, build and test a hovercraft. They use the same engineering design fundamentals as the Safe Racer teams.

• To quote a Fall 2009 report (The Bridge) from the NAE: “In recent years, educators and policy makers have reached a consensus that the teaching of STEM subjects in U.S. schools must be improved. The focus on STEM topics is closely related to concerns about U.S. competitiveness in the global economy and about the development of a workforce with the knowledge and skills to address technical and technological issues. To date, most efforts to improve STEM education have been concentrated on mathematics and science, but an increasing number of states and school districts have been adding technology education to the mix, and a smaller but significant number have added engineering.”

Members of The Greater Baltimore Committee can play a significant role in the development of STEM education in Baltimore City Public Schools. Volunteers and funds are needed to get this program off the ground. We have an opportunity to support this important step in STEM education. Contact Kisha A. Brown at 410-727-2820 if you want to learn more about how you can become involved. 

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