School children in general and high school students, in particular more often than not lose interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. Underrepresented and female students are even more discouraged by STEM courses. Our investigation and interviews with high school teachers cite that the main reason for such disinterest is the disconnect between school and reality. Students cannot relate the abstract concepts they learn in physics, biology, chemistry, or math to their surroundings. This paper discusses a new capstone project-based approach that closes this gap. This work is an outcome of an NSF funded project called CAPSULE (Capstone Unique Learning Experience). We use the top-down pedagogical approach instead of the traditional bottom-up approach. The top-down approach relates the abstract concepts to exciting open-ended capstone projects where students are engaged in designing solutions, like products to solve open-ended problems. This top-down approach is modeled after the college-level capstone design courses. The paper presents the model, its details, and implementation. It also presents the formative and summative evaluation of the model after deploying it in the Boston Public Schools, a system heavily populated by the targeted student groups.

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