Hands-on activities elevate student interest in STEM careers


Can a daylong event spark interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers? According to Cockeysville Middle School students, it can!

Before participating in a daylong STEM event, 58 percent of students said they were considering pursuing STEM careers, but after the event that rose to 74 percent. Correspondingly, while 15 percent of students said they were not interested in a STEM career before the event that fell to just 5 percent after the event.

What changed the students’ minds? The Cockeysville Middle School STEM Day.

Held on National STEM Day, the event was produced in partnership with a Maryland STEM Festival initiative, the Middle School STEM Match Program. On the day, 75 students in Cockeysville Middle's AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), BRILLA (Bilingual Readiness for Intellectual Language Learning Advancement), and Project Lead the Way (PLTW) programs spent the day learning from area professionals and participating in hands-on activities.

Students that participated in the STEM day pose for a group photo.

Students learn about being an architect from Kezia Black.

Students gather around to see a video game in action and how data analysts have to track player choices and movements.

Students challenge themselves with online coding tasks.

Kezia Black shares her career journey and how she became an architect.


With Dr. Beka Keener, a DNA scientist, students created DNA models. Grade 8 AVID student Alyssa Leary, said, "I really enjoyed the DNA scientist because I liked what we did with the pipe cleaners to model DNA. Everyone's creation was different and unique like our DNA."

Carlos Dunmoodie, a systems engineer for the U.S. Department of Defense, challenged the students to design cars.

Terri Labbe, a forensic scientist with Baltimore City Police Department, taught the students to take fingerprints using glue. "It was fun to hear about what happens with fingerprints, criminals, and how [forensic scientists] can discover clues and solve cases," said Rania Athar, a Grade 8 AVID student.

Students explored the data and math behind video games through an activity coordinated by Karl Mueck, director of data science for video game company Zennimax. Mueck helped students analyze an online video game from a data perspective.

Students use straws to build structures around Ms. Denton, BRILLA teacher and world languages chair.

Students draw tracks using patterns and colors to make Gizmo robots move and perform a variety of tasks.

Grade 8 PLTW student Bridgette Castino and AVID scholar Maddie Feldheim use KEVA planks to challenge themselves with a building task.

The finished KEVA plank challenge creation

Kezia Black, an architect and principal of technical services projects for Northrop Grumman, had students participate in a design challenge using dice to determine the task, materials, and purpose. Based on the dice throws, the students had to create games that used power and were mostly made from grass. Grade 7 BRILLA student Kymberly Perez-Perez described Black as "super interactive and funny.”

“[Ms. Black] never made me bored,” Kymberly said, “and we got to solve a lot of problems."

The day also spotlighted Stephanie Hill, executive vice president of rotary and missions systems at Lockheed Martin, by viewing her TED Talk on “The Superpowers of STEM.” After watching the video, students used their math skills to build solar systems.

“All of the presenters were from the community, and one was even a Cockeysville Middle graduate,” said Megan Thomas, Cockeysville’s AVID coordinator. “In addition to learning about the presenters’ careers and participating in a variety of STEM hands-on activities, students took focused notes, took a STEM career interest inventory, and completed an AVID one-pager on a STEM career.”

Here is what some students said about the day:

  • "This is what I want to pursue later in life. This gave me a lot of very interesting information." – Caleb Smith, Grade 8 PLTW
  • "I loved it! I learned a lot about different careers and how to be like them one day!" – Dayli Juarez, Grade 8 BRILLA
  • "It was really fun to learn about the different STEM careers. It really piqued my interest and is making me consider a STEM career in the future." – Naya Edwards, Grade 8 PLTW
  • "I learned that STEM is fun! It is good to learn about your future, and what you want to be when you grow up." – Jose Amado Garcia, Grade 8 BRILLA
  • "STEM Day was great because I learned a lot about different career paths, and now I definitely want to pursue a career in STEM." – Laila Masri, Grade 8 AVID

More photos as well as videos from the day can be found on Flickr.


AVID is a college preparatory system that prepares students in the academic middle for admission to four-year colleges and universities.

BRILLA is a program for our native speaking Spanish students,” explains Thomas. “The program focuses on celebrating students' heritage while working on executive functioning, study skills and college research to prepare them for post-secondary goals.”

Through PLTW, Cockeysville Middle students in Grades 7 and 8 are taking courses that provide both STEM education and career readiness.

What is STEM education? It’s widely accepted that the acronym STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

According to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), “A common definition of STEM education […] is an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise enabling the development of STEM literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy.”

Perspectives Change the Definition

The NSTA goes on to state that this definition leaves questions in what STEM education truly means, and discusses how the definition can changed based on the perspective of the individual – whether an educator, a member of the workforce, etc. There are also many variations of STEM that incorporate additional subjects.

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