STEM Institute

The STEM Institute at Roland Park Country School strives to foster within girls the attitudes, cognitive skills, and academic foundations to investigate intellectually rigorous problems in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Our goal is to produce young women with the confidence, passion, persistence, and curiosity to explore the empirical world and to develop innovative habits of mind. Engaging in a problem-based curriculum, students of the Institute learn to plan research projects, work with others, synthesize new knowledge, generate novel solutions, and communicate effectively about their results. Participants develop the necessary ethical, analytical, and creative reasoning skills to  pursue interests in and to prepare for careers in the STEM disciplines.

Program Description

The core of the STEM Institute consists of a series of semester-long research apprenticeships that may be taken in sequential order or as stand-alone courses. These programs are intended for both the student with an interest in a STEM career and the student who is exploring STEM research for the first time. Each course in the ninth and 10th grades teaches a collection of unique skill sets within specific STEM fields that complement the regular scope and sequence of the RPCS math and science programs, and all of the courses employ differentiated instruction to meet the academic needs of students with prior STEM experience as well as those of the novice researcher. Graduates of the STEM Institute will be expected to take all four semesters during ninth and 10th grade, the yearlong 11th grade STEM internship, and then develop a final portfolio of major work completed. The units and semesters in ninth and 10th grade remain autonomous, and any student may take any one (or more) of the semester courses on a pass/fail basis. However, any student who fails to make adequate progress will not be permitted to continue in the Institute.

Graduation Requirements

In addition to and/or in conjunction with the 9th, 10th, and 11th grade components of the program, graduates of the Institute must complete the following academic coursework as part of their general training in order to receive certification:

  • One course of statistics or one course of introductory engineering
  • One course of computer science
  • Any two Advanced Placement STEM courses (e.g., AP Calculus, AP Computer Science, AP Chemistry)
  • One summer internship (departmental approval required)
  • Four full years of science
  • Four full years of math

Portfolio Requirements

Each graduate of the Institute must assemble a final portfolio of at least eight pieces from the list below with at least one coming from each of the four semesters. Possible choices for inclusion in this final portfolio are:

STEM Research Seminar IA

  • Epidemiology Model
  • Marketing Statistical Analysis
  • “Money Ball” Presentation

STEM Research Seminar IB

  • “Space Probe” Delivery Mechanism
  • Presentation of Robot Solution

STEM Research Seminar IIA

  • Computer program for illustrating Euclid’s postulates
  • Formal paper comparing and contrasting Euclidean, Spherical, and Hyperbolic geometries, including potential applications and connections to postulates of each system
  • Project applying topology or one of the 3D geometries to 2D space

STEM Research Seminar IIB

  • Computer model to project magnet strength
  • Peer review formatted paper on short-term memory
  • Formal poster on seasonal change

Scope and Sequence Overview

STEM Seminar IA

  • Math – Statistical Analysis
  • Science – Modeling Phenomena (e.g., epidemics, markets, etc.)

STEM Seminar IB

  • Engineering – Ethical case studies; design process; budget; timelines
  • Math – Applied

STEM Seminar IIA

  • Math – Formal
  • Tech – Use and create 2D and 3D models

STEM Seminar IIB

  • Science – Foundational skills, including literature search for  exploratory science
  • Tech – Programming to create models

Core Course Descriptions

STEM Research Seminar IA lays the foundation for success in all the Science, Technology,  Engineering, and Mathematics disciplines and introduces students to the skills for statistical
literacy. Students will use case studies from fields such as epidemiology, sports, and marketing to explore topics ranging from how doctors develop models for the spread of disease to how advertising firms create campaigns to sell things. The course culminates with students creating a new statistical model on a topic of their choice.

STEM Research Seminar IB introduces students to the basic elements and demands of engineering and applied mathematics. Students will complete a semester-long design project that simulates the  engineering and math needed to explore nearby planets. They will design the kind of equipment it takes to deliver space probes to another planet’s surface and learn the technology and constraints of controlling such a vehicle remotely. Students will finish the course by learning how to program  sensor-rich robots, which they will use to complete missions on a large-scale model of the “Red Planet.”

STEM Research Seminar IIA interweaves technology and pure mathematics as it investigates  
non-traditional geometries and topological topics. Students will study possible shapes of the universe and the techniques to project 3- and 4-dimensional objects on a 2-dimensional surface. They will  explore Euclidean, Spherical, and Hyperbolic 2-Dimensional Geometries, Mobius Strips and Klein Bottles, as well as 3-Dimensional Projective Geometries. They will learn how technology supports these mathematics by enabling students to visualize and investigate mathematical objects that cannot be built in our 3-dimensional world or drawn on a 2-dimensional plane. Students explore the  complexity of such interactive programs and learn to write their own using Scratch and MatLab programming languages. The course culminates with a final project of the student’s choosing related to topics studied during the semester.

STEM Research Seminar IIB introduces students to applications of technology to the process of  scientific investigation. Students will learn to write basic software programs to model different natural phenomena, and they will complete both a detailed investigation on seasonal change and a study on short-term memory to develop their ability to evaluate scientific literature and determine appropriate tool use. Creating a poster presentation and learning to write a peer-reviewed paper are the culminating activities for this course.

11th Grade STEM Internship
Students of the Institute will take this year-long capstone course introducing students to the overlap of science and engineering. Students will explore materials that have a scientific and environmental impact to develop a novel sunscreen formula and the package to contain it for retail purposes. Students will learn how to develop an engineering research proposal, how to create and test a prototype for quality control, and how to present their findings in a Stage Gate. All students will complete a culminating project examining a sustainable design challenge of their own choosing.

Other STEM Opportunities

8th Grade Accelerated STEM Program
This year-long course prepares girls with strong abilities in math and science to participate in the Upper School accelerated science sequence. As part of their preparation, students in the course will participate in national STEM competitions such as the Toshiba ExploraVision program and the  eCYBERMISSION competition.

The Environmental Science Summer Research Experience for Young Women (E.S.S.R.E.)
Launched in 2001, E.S.S.R.E. is a three-week summer internship in environmental field studies for 9th and 10th grade girls from the greater Baltimore area. Participants explore the soil chemistry and biota of the Roland Park Country School campus, author and test lab activities for studying soil  microenvironments, and adapt these labs for dissemination and use in a wide variety of educational situations and socio-economic conditions. The program’s primary objectives are to give this target audience the opportunity to engage in authentic, self-directed primary research into the ecological roles of soil microbes and, as a result, to nurture their interest in science in general as a possible career option.

E.S.S.R.E. has received national recognition for its efforts to promote the study of soil ecology and for encouraging young women’s interests in research. Former interns have gone on to work at national research centers and many graduates of the program have pursued careers in science.

STEM-Plus: Preschool–Grade 8
At RPCS, we recognize that intellectual passions can arise at any stage in life. But it is the early years that the National Research Council has identified as especially critical to developing an interest in STEM, and for that reason, we have identified an intellectual toolkit (see below) to provide our  students with the skills to nurture this interest. Integrated into the full Preschool through 8th Grade curriculum, our students employ this toolkit regularly in problem-solving projects that can include:

  • Using sustainable practices to grow and harvest gardens on campus
  • Participating in a bridge-building design competition
  • Creating and analyzing fraction quilts
  • Learning computer code to build unique designs with newly found skills

The STEM-Plus Preschool – Grade 8 Toolkit

  • Perseverance
  • Knowledge is interdisciplinary
  • Independent thinkers/risk takers
  • Collaboration
  • Curiosity
  • Knowledge evolves over time
  • Understanding has levels of complexity for the same idea
  • Can reflect on progress
  • Comfortable with making mistakes
  • Knowledge has consequences for the social and natural world
  • Effects have causes
  • Interconnectedness of all knowledge
  • Critical consumer of knowledge
  • Comfortable using technology
  • Measurement
  • Design
  • Graphing
  • Communication
  • Computational thinking
  • Identifying a problem
  • Creating a plan to solve a problem
  • Supporting a solution to a problem with evidence
  • Logical reasoning
  • Self-assessment of solutions
  • Observation
  • Pattern recognition

“The STEM disciplines are important for all students. They teach logical thinking as well as practical skills. Yet, too often, girls buy into the societal pressure that these subjects are not
for them.” The National Coalition of Girls’ Schools