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MSPnet Academy: STEM Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools (SABES)


The STEM Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools (SABES) project, a Johns Hopkins University (JHU) collaboration between the Whiting School of Engineering (WSE) and the School of Education (SoE), is currently in its 2nd year of the NSF grant. SABES is working in nine urban elementary schools in Maryland to provide Grades 3-5 students with a new STEM curriculum that highlights the inquiry-based, engineering design process through project-based learning. In addition to the in-school portion of the intervention, after-school programs are operated in the schools where students use this approach to develop their STEM skills and knowledge. In the after-school setting, however, students work in teams to experiment with common materials to explore scientific principles and engineering design. Overall, the goal of SABES, in both in-school and after-school, is to empower students to view their own communities as places of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) that can be applied to address local issues and concerns. This approach draws upon Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Theory of Human Development, where the child is at the locus of control or the center of multiple concentric layers of influence on development.

Unlike many other curricular approaches to improving STEM education for students, SABES draws upon the resources throughout the community, especially in the after-school setting. These programs are run and coordinated by local community development groups, with long-standing ties and interests it the communities and families. Also, this program operates under the assumption that students are vital agents of change for bring STEM disciplines into a position to improve communities.

Having students as the "primary agents of change" is counter to the common literature on family and community engagement in student learning (we will include citations here). Many studies have shown that family involvement is a strong predictor of students' academic achievement in science, as well as their interest and motivation to pursue careers in the STEM disciplines (refs here). These studies, however, represent family members as the primary drivers and sources of parent-child interactions. They indicate that student invitations to parents for their involvement is among the most powerful influences explaining why parents get involved in their children's education outside of school (Delande & Bertrand, 2005; Whitaker & Hoover-Dempsery, 2013).

To encourage student-driven involvement around STEM, SABES is implementing a problem-based curriculum approach in after-school programs, assigning interactive homework that requires students to work with a family member on STEM-related materials, and through community STEM-recognition events. By empowering students in this way to engage their families and community in STEM discussions and activities, SABES is testing a new approach to improving STEM achievement in urban elementary school students.