NIU STEM Read is known for mind-blowing field trips that use games to bring to life the STEM concepts behind popular fiction books. In a normal year, each field trip would gather 400 to 1,000 students in a ballroom, gym or even the convocation center to design costumes, practice their suturing skills on banana peels, build improvised shelters out of items on hand or immerse themselves in other creative hands-on challenges.
Similarly, NIU STEAM Summer Camps typically welcome hundreds of young people to campus to experience a week of college life, build community, tour the NIU labs and facilities, and perform hands-on experiments and builds.
We all know the past year has been anything but normal, so the NIU STEAM team faced the challenge that defined so much of 2020: How could they bring their interactive, hands-on camps and field trips online to create an immersive virtual learning experience that stayed true to the NIU STEAM vision?
Well, with a little ingenuity and a lot of hard work, our STEAM educators have created online learning experiences that prioritize: 1. Community and connection, 2. Hands on learning, and 3. Freedom for students to pursue their own interests and follow their curiosity.
Find out more about how our summer camps and STEM Read field trips deliver on the immersive, exciting experience you expect from NIU STEAM.
When STEM Café coordinator Judy Dymond and the NIU STEAM team planned a STEM café on the topic of recycling, little did we know that that it would be one of most popular STEM Cafés ever! It turns out we’re all a bit confused about recycling and we want to learn more about the global recycling system and what we can do to make a positive difference for our planet.
“Recycling is a complex process and is not particularly efficient in terms of energy and natural resource consumption,” said our speaker Courtney Gallaher, an associate professor in the NIU Department of Geographic and Atmospheric Sciences and the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality.
“Many of our recyclable products are not recycled in the ways we imagine, either because of contamination in the recycling process due to poor sorting on the end of consumers, or because there is no longer a market for those types of recycled materials,” she continued.
According to Gallaher, “Our ability to actually recycle our products is dependent on international markets for the recycled materials, and when those markets change, as has been the case recently with China, then it jeopardizes our entire recycling system. If we want to continue to recycle our products in the future, it will require us to rethink the ways in which we consume products and the types of materials they are made from.” Read more
Hear Professor Gallaher on the 21st, from Illinois Public Media.
Watch the STEM Café recording.
When James Wu became the new principal of Taipei Fuhsing Private School in 2019, he had ambitious dreams to expand the 3,500-student K-12 school by building a second campus. This second campus, to be dubbed the “Innovation Academy” would focus on a problem-based STEM/STEAM curriculum (science, technology, engineering, art and math). However, Wu also knew it would take some time and knowledge-building to bring the 75-year-old institution up to the cutting edge of 21st-century education.
That’s where NIU STEAM came in. As part of their learning process, Wu and 14 of his school’s deans and administrators visited Northern Illinois University in early February 2020 for a week of school visits, field trip observations and teacher professional development organized by NIU STEAM.
Kristin Brynteson, director of professional development for NIU STEAM, said, “It was a pleasure to welcome Principal Wu and his team and to hear about their goals. I enjoyed learning what their classroom environment and instruction look like and getting a chance to learn from their rich history. It was also exciting to hear their questions and to have discussions around STEAM learning from our two perspectives.” Read more
When Kristin Brynteson and Newt Likier sat down to think up a topic for a new NIU STEAM podcast back in 2019, failure was an obvious choice.
“We talk about failure a lot,” the co-creators of the Failure Bites podcast agree.
“Failure-based learning is big around here,” Likier says, referring to the project- or problem-based learning style that is central to the mission of NIU STEAM. “You can’t succeed until you’ve failed along the way because that’s just how learning works.”
While NIU STEAM is dedicated to a project- or problem-based approach to learning, where trying, falling short and revising are understood as part of the learning process, Likier and Brynteson believe everyone needs a reminder that failure is an unavoidable part of life and that how we react to failure is what matters. (Little did they know how important those lessons in resiliency and adaptability would become in 2020!)
“Sometimes they’re big failures, sometimes they’re smaller, but I think people need to know that we’ve all been through it, that everybody – even the most successful people you know – have had these experiences. What differentiates the successful from the unsuccessful is how they deal with it, how they recover and how they see it as part of the process and not the end.”
Since the podcast began, Failure Bites has become the basis for lesson plans – and even a summer camp – to teach essential employability skills to high schoolers. These essential traits – such as perseverance, responsibility and work ethic – are essential to every career and academic path, but they may seem difficult to teach. That’s where the focus on personal stories comes in. Hearing the stories of successful people who overcame failure allows students to explore important questions.
“Why are some people more resilient than others? Why do some people recover from failures or face challenges differently?” Brynteson asks. “We listen to these stories from a wide variety of people, and we talk about what they learned through their struggles, whether it was one big life-altering catastrophic change, or a series of small challenges they had to overcome to push towards a goal.”
Brynteson, who has taught about failure in K-12 schools and educator professional development workshops, says this reframing of failure is often the biggest lesson students, parents and teachers take away from the workshops. “For so long we’ve always thought, if you failed, you failed, and it’s done. But actually, failure isn’t the end of the process – it’s just the beginning. Once you strip away the stigma, it’s fun and liberating to talk about failure and to know failure’s something everyone experiences.”
Check out our Failure Bites podcast for lots of cool stories of failure and the path beyond it: https://www.northernpublicradio.org/topic/failure-bites or wherever you get your podcasts.