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Student Engineers to Present Projects in Johns Hopkins-City Program

May 2, 2016
CONTACT: Arthur Hirsch
Office: 443-997-9909
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Graffiti surveillance drone, robotic backpack among creations in STEM Showcase

Graffiti scrawlers in Highlandtown, beware: a team of third- and fourth-graders is building a drone to catch you in the act, and also clean the building.

The group from Highlandtown Elementary/Middle School #237, along with more than 30 other student teams this week will present projects they’ve been working on under the STEM Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools (SABES) program, a joint effort of the city school system and Johns Hopkins University. The STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – Showcase will take place between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 4 at Coppin State University.

The event features student presentations and interactive demonstrations, including a portable planetarium to be set up by graduate students from the Johns Hopkins University Department of Physics & Astronomy.

Launched in 2012 with a five-year $7.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the SABES program teams more than 40 city teachers with 200 mentors — faculty, researchers and doctoral students from Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering and some employees of local high-tech firms. Together they have bolstered the curricula in nine schools for grades three to five in hopes of building enthusiasm for STEM fields.

“Engagement with SABES helps teachers better understand the key science and engineering concepts and provides resources for students to undertake hands-on classroom activities that catalyze STEM learning,” said Michael Falk, a Whiting School of Engineering professor of materials science and engineering, and the principal investigator in the SABES program. “These mentors visit the same students multiple times over the year, or in some instances over many years, so that relationships are formed.”

Falk said there’s been “significant growth” in the number of students who know what engineers do, and show interest in STEM careers.

Working after school hours, the students in three city neighborhoods included in SABES – Greater Homewood, Park Heights and Greektown/Highlandtown – have been encouraged to work on projects that can have a direct impact on their communities.

Students at Highlandtown Elementary/Middle #237 noticed that around their school on South Eaton Street, graffiti scribblers had been having a field day. They wondered about different ways of cleaning the walls and stopping the scrawlers, considering several low-tech possibilities: washing the walls, scraping and painting them over, putting up signs warning would-be daubers. Then they wondered how technology could help.

Working with the Baltimore-based unmanned aircraft company, Global Air Media, the students are building a drone that can be equipped in a couple ways. It can spray soap and water to wash the walls and also be fitted with a video camera to fly about and keep an eye out for graffiti doodlers.

Another group of junior engineers – fifth-graders at Barclay Elementary/Middle School — discovered that heavy backpacks were putting a strain on their fellow students’ young frames. The students researched the potential harms of hauling loaded packs and fashioned a solution in the form of a robotic backpack that carries the burden by remote control.

At last word, the robotic backpack was coming along, with students making adjustments to make it more mobile.

The drone was not expected to be ready to wash buildings, but could be flying and spotting from on high, as the team was working to make their presentation at the STEM Showcase, the 14th one held since the program began.

“This STEM Showcase will not just be a culminating event,” said Michael Falk. “It is a forum where these students have the opportunity to be the experts.”


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