UMBC researchers introduce innovative curriculum that INSPIRES high school students to explore engineering

UMBC engineering and education researchers have partnered with Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) to develop and implement an innovative curriculum that exposes high school students to engineering earlier in their educational careers, through existing science and technology classes. The current implementation phase of the INcreasing Student Participation, Interest, and Recruitment in Engineering and Science (INSPIRES) program is supported by four-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, and the project has received nearly $7 million in total funding over the past decade of development.

The principal investigator leading INSPIRES is Julie Ross, dean of UMBC’s College of Engineering and Information Technology (COEIT). Jonathan Singer, associate professor of education, and Christopher Rakes, assistant professor of education, are co-principal investigators. This year, 38 Teacher Leaders are implementing the curriculum in their classrooms in 13 BCPS schools.

“Many educational innovations that are developed by universities and target K-12 learning are not translated into large scale adoption by K-12 school systems,” says Ross. “In close partnership with BCPS, our research project provides professional development to high school teachers that will lead to integration of engineering concepts into biology and technology education courses throughout the county.”

The INSPIRES curriculum offers students essential hands-on experience with engineering, demystifying the field and building their problem-solving skills. As Rakes explains, “The Next Generation Science Standards call for science teachers to infuse engineering design principles into their instruction. They also call for teachers to provide instruction from an inquiry/reform-based rather than a traditional format.”

new BCPS video gives a glimpse of students presenting hemodialysis machines they constructed through INSPIRES curriculum to mimic kidney function by filtering artificial blood. Rakes explains that the INSPIRES hemodialysis module in the current study is designed “to help biology and technology education teachers transform their teaching” in a way that yields both immediately tangible and long-term results for the teachers and their students.

Dialysis Machines from Baltimore County Public Schools on Vimeo.

Before implementing the INSPIRES curriculum in their classrooms, the teachers attended a five-day professional development series on integrating engineering elements into existing biology and technology education classes. The series was integral to giving the teachers the preparation and confidence they needed to teach projects based in engineering concepts, without necessarily having a background in engineering themselves.

“As the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards is in the horizon, the UMBC INSPIRES program was an eye opening experience of what the future of science education will look like,” says Mathew Hebert, a science teacher in BCPS. “My students absolutely loved this project and I could tell that this type of teaching and learning is truly a fantastic way to engage and deepen my students understanding of the scientific phenomena around them.”

Ross, Singer and Rakes continue to receive feedback about the program through professional development meetings and monthly assessments that help them gauge the efficacy of INSPIRES. As Singer describes, “The INSPIRES project is a true collaboration.”

“We are working together to scale our innovation, the INSPIRES Curriculum, in a way that is sustainable for BCPS and our research data will help us assess our level of success,” says Ross.

Through INSPIRES, UMBC faculty and BCPS teachers hope to pique the interest of students from diverse backgrounds, so more feel excited about and prepared for the possibility of pursuing an engineering career.

Image: Douglas Handy, Coordinator, Office of Career and Technology Education, BCPS; Jonathan Singer, Associate Professor of Education, UMBC; Christopher Rakes, Assistant Professor of Education, UMBC; Julie Ross, Dean, College of Engineering and Information Technology, UMBC; Christine Schumacker, Director of Science, Pre-K-12, BCPS.  Photo by Marlayna Demond for UMBC.