Growing STEM in Baltimore

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As educators and foundations consider how to expand STEM learning in Baltimore, I’d like to offer a few recommendations.

First, define STEM broadly.
When we see STEM as a way of understanding and solving problems of all kinds, it becomes more than a club for kids who like robotics or computer coding.

STEM can help us do everything: it can help us cook better cupcakes, build better skateboards, improve our health, and design better bus routes. When we see that STEM is a tool kit to help us improve our world, it becomes available to everyone and applicable everywhere. Sure, STEM can stay in the science and computer labs, but what if we also let students in on the fact that its also valuable on the athletic field, the board room, the Mayor’s office and the hospital?

Second, use STEM to solve real problems.
I love Frisbee throwing robots as much as anyone, but does the world need another one?

When will we start creating STEM projects designed to solve real problems our students and our community are experiencing?

When are students going to help improve the bus service for their schools, test the water in their nearest stream or find ways to improve their health and learning?

Here are some quick ways to add STEM learning opportunities in Baltimore:

Water quality testing
Michel Anderson, an educator with Blue Water Baltimore is starting to train teachers to test water at their schools and local streams.
Funding to help transport students to their local streams could help students understand the water quality at their local streams. Putting these tests together in an online data base could help students (and everyone else) understand water quality in the Baltimore area watershed.

Benchmark health and learning at schools
Students can benchmark their health (asthma, vision and absenteeism) and the health of the school environment.
Using Tools for Schools from the EPA, students can identify existing asthma triggers like mold, chemicals and pests.
They can test the temperature, humidity, lighting and noise levels in their classrooms with the Operations Report Card by the Collaborative for High Performing Schools (CHPS). Entering their school energy use into Energy Star Portfolio Manager, enables students to compare the energy use at their school to similar schools and to calculate the carbon footprint of their school.

Engage students in the design of their schools and neighborhoods
The 21st Century School Building project, the program to construct or renovate Baltimore City Public Schools, is a perfect for STEM learning.
Students should be designing CAD drawings of potential school designs, talking with architects and construction managers, calculating construction costs and evaluating bus and walking routes.
But so far, students and their teachers are barely consulted in the design and citizen involvement process.
Schools could integrate this learning into their curriculum and engaging the citizen involvement processes with after school programs where parents, teachers, citizens and students work through these important decisions.

Revive Saturday Science
Don Thomas, an astronaut, ran a very successful Saturday morning program at Towson University where students could see and experience science programs which ranged from space exploration to crime scene investigations; from wildlife studies in the Amazon to pyrotechnics. This program was free and would fill an auditorium with students and parents interested in learning. After the program, students could sign up for a short lab experience.

Reviving the program (preferably with Thomas) would give Baltimore area students a great way to experience science.
If a local university isn’t willing to sponsor this program, perhaps it could be run as a collaborative with UMBC, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, Morgan and Towson taking turn presenting programs. This could be a great recruiting opportunity for these institutions as they show off their professors to their prospective students.

  • Designing a STEM ecosystem in Baltimore
  • STEM design for Baltimore

STEM by Design: Creating a Learning Ecosystem in Baltimore

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Facilitators pace the front of the room, poking their hands at graphs projected on the board. Huddled around workbench tables, a mix of school officials, college professors and informal educators stare between the board and the colorful pie charts, glowing like a dessert menu on their computer screens.

Let’s call it a STEM learning project for educators.

The project?

How to create a thriving ecosystem for STEM learning in Baltimore.

STEM design for Baltimore
Educators look through graphics outlining existing STEM programs in Baltimore.

This is a room of very smart people, working hard to create STEM learning opportunities in Baltimore. This is a good effort. But even with great cooks, it’s tough to make a great chocolate cake without chocolate.

So where are the business leaders, the medical and innovation companies, the construction trades and government agencies?

STEM design workshop
Educators discuss the problems with silos and lack of industry participation in STEM education in Baltimore.

And where are the kids and their parents?

Sure, this is a daytime event, so kids are in school, parents at work, but when and where do they have a turn to talk about the type of STEM education that they want in their communities?

One of the best points at the workshop is that STEM learning should be available to everyone. Think of it as a thousand points of learning.

But in at least one group, “equitable” was used to describe targeting STEM opportunities to those without resources.
The digital divide is big in Baltimore with students using state of the art computers and technology while other students may have to write and research their papers at home on their cell phones. In a computer coding program some students needed to be paid to learn computer coding or they would have to take a part time job to pay bills instead.

But in our attempt to provide equitable STEM education, will we create programs that are as divided by race, income and address as the rest of Baltimore?
STEM learning should be a banquet where we share the bounty of learning together.
We have an opportunity to start programs which include students, parents, citizens and tourists based simply on their curiosity and willingness to learn.  We can create a culture of learning which is pervasive and inclusive throughout Baltimore.

Designing a STEM ecosystem in Baltimore
Business partnerships need to be increased and strengthened to improve STEM learning in Baltimore.

The question shouldn’t be whether we improve STEM education to students in poverty or whether we create STEM opportunities for everyone. It is how soon and well we can do both.

Leading to Leadership

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Are Baltimore schools starting to pay attention to student
leadership and ideas?

It may be too early to tell. It is one thing to ask students to speak up.
It is another to listen.

But if the student leadership conference at Johns Hopkins University is any indication, students at Baltimore schools are willing to take on a larger role in changing their schools and their world.

Schools have traditionally been run as a top down dictatorship with students sharing the last rung of powerlessness with their parents.

So this invitation for students to express their voice and solve problems at their schools is encouraging.

Is it possible that this period of deep political and social conflict is the perfect moment to build leaders who actually solve problems?

Learning Everywhere, Always, For Everyone

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If you are reading this, you know the power of free, immediate information available to you whenever you wish.
When was the last time that you learned how to do or fix something by watching a YouTube video or seeking advice an online discussion group?

EdX, Coursera, Khan Academy, Open Culture and Creative Live are offering courses and great learning free, every day.
Suddenly, every computer terminal has become a school open to anyone for free, 24 hours a day. At this school you choose your faculty.
You can learn from a professor at Harvard, a motivational speaker, successful entrepreneur, a mechanic or a 12 year-old.

In an era where we are threatened by global warming and nuclear weapons, this global learning and enlightenment is our most important tool.
It creates a conversation of information, discovery and empowerment which is at once global and hyper-local.

Will the idea from MIT spur a better practice in Bangladesh, or will the idea and practice at Bangladesh create a better practice and ideas at MIT? Will an invention from India help purify water in China and heat homes in Finland? Will an online discussion between American and Syrian students deepen understandings?

Enabling individuals to gain skills and insights to help them improve their lives, families and communities has never been easier or cheaper.
So why is it that our school children are still reading old books and repeating facts and figures to satisfy a curriculum? Why aren’t they using this fountain of online learning to build skills and understandings that satisfy their curiosity and create positive changes in their lives and communities?

We have created our schools upside down, as factories for test scores instead of laboratories for real and relevant learning.
When was the last time a school asked its students or even it’s community what students should learn or create?
How often has the learning and work of the students improved the health and success of their community?

We have a chance to connect our students to the world of information and to use this knowledge to benefit themselves and their community.
Let’s connect our students and our schools to their world.

Turning the Classroom Right Side Up

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It is a community college literature class in Pennsylvania.
Laid-off mill workers, retirees and students fresh out of high school choose their seats and prepare for the first lecture.
Their professor, a big guy with eyes that brighten at this
new adventure looks out at the class and asks,

“Who is paying to be here?”

Some raise their hands quickly, others raise their hands almost
reluctantly, trying to understand the point.
Nodding at the forest of hands, the professor asks another question.

“Who is being paid to be here?”

At this, the professor raises his hand. He tilts his head to the class and says,

“Then I must be your employee. It is my job to ensure that this class meets your needs and expectations.”

Thinking back on this, the now retired professor glows with pride.

If teachers would greet their young students with a pledge to help them learn and grow, he said, then they could share this great adventure of learning together. Why force students to memorize and recite the prepared lesson of the day when they can learn so much more pursuing their own interests and goals?

In an educational system where curriculum is enforced upon
students, where is there room for curiosity, collaboration, and the
empowerment of students, teachers and parents?

This professor turned his classroom right side up, helping his
students find joy and purpose in their own learning and growth.

When I left him, the professor flashed that mischievous smile of one who inspires magic and delight in others.

Act Boldly

posted in: Environment, Multimedia, News and Issues | 0

The Maryland Department of the Environment is urged to set strong goals for greenhouse gas reductions and to act boldly in reducing pollution. Testimony was made at the Maryland Department of the Environment as they consider the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Officials have hinted of leaving RGGI if they perceive economic advantages going to neighboring states.