NIU STEM Read Institute trains educators to facilitate action-packed field trips for their schools

by Elizabeth Schewe, Guest Blogger

Calling all educators! Would you like to be able to bring popular fiction – and the science behind it – alive with hands-on activities for your students? Find out how at the 2019 NIU STEM Read Summer Institute, July 24-26 at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

Registration is now open at Cost is $495 per person, which includes daily continental breakfast and lunch, campus parking and the STEM Read book pack. Professional development hours and graduate credit from the NIU College of Education are available upon request.

STEM Read field trips are live-action games that immerse students in the world and science of popular fiction. During the three-day summer institute, you’ll become an expert in this unique approach to learning.

Each day, you’ll experience a new NIU STEM Read field trip and learn how to facilitate one at your own school. You’ll be immersed in the worlds of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (paired with Kiersten White’s The Dark Descent of Mary Frankenstein), Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot, Aaron Starmer’s The Only Ones and Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas. You’ll experience and take back to your school standards-aligned activities based on each of these books. In addition, you’ll learn how to use the STEM Read approach with books already in your curriculum.

Authors Thomas Voorhies and Lex Hrabe (Lex Thomas).
Authors Thomas Voorhies (left) and Lex Hrabe (right)

Participants will also get to meet and learn from special guests Lex Hrabe and Thomas Voorhies (otherwise known as Lex Thomas), the authors of the Quarantine series.

Quarantine: The Loners is definitely in non-required reading territory,” STEM Read director Gillian King-Cargile says of the book, “and that’s one of the things I really like about it.”

This dystopian novel for teens offers an example of the kind of fast-paced stories STEM Read uses to attract both reluctant and ravenous readers and to invite all students into the world of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

“With a post-apocalyptic-type novel like this one, there’s actually a lot of room for creativity and a lot of room to explore subjects like engineering, economics, human health, disaster response and epidemiology,” King-Cargile says. “You can ask all of these scientific and philosophical questions about how humans organize their physical spaces and economic and social structures.”

While Quarantine and Frankenstein appeal to high schoolers, institute participants will also have a chance to experience fields trips designed for younger students with The Wild Robot (an illustrated novel for grades 3 through 5) and The Only Ones (recommended for grades 6 through 8).

No matter the book or grade level, STEM Read field trips provide a highly interactive experience where students work together to play games and solve challenges based on the book. This engages students’ interest and helps develop problem solving skills, creativity and critical thinking. STEM Read lessons are aligned to Illinois, Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards.

Dr. Kristin Brynteson, director of Professional Development for NIU STEAM and the NIU Center for P-20 Engagement, is partnering with King-Cargile to lead this unique professional development institute.

“The institute is a great way to connect STEM to literacy in a meaningful way because we anchor STEM challenges in the context of a dynamic and engaging story,” Brynteson says.

Previous attendees of the STEM Read Summer Institute offered overwhelmingly positive feedback. Teachers said they appreciated learning how to build STEAM (STEM plus art) activities around both chapter and picture books, and learning how to use picture books across all grade levels – even high school.

“I loved the collaborative brainstorm sessions and really liked going through each activity this morning,” one educator reported. “It helps us understand what students go through.”

David Roat, Technology Integration Specialist at Stanton Middle School, partnered with NIU STEAM to build a STEAM program at his middle school and has used STEM Read activities as part of his teaching.

“I’ve experienced first-hand that incorporating STEAM-related activities within different curricular content enriches the learning experience,” he says. “Two lessons, in particular, that my students have really enjoyed are the ‘Shelter Engineering Challenge’ and ‘Into the Ash,’ both connected to the book Ashfall by Mike Mullin. My students hardly even realize they are using mathematic and engineering design principles to produce something unique and purposeful. The opportunities are really endless and that’s what I want my kids to come out of STEAM courses believing. STEAM on!”  

STEM Read is one of the many ways that Northern Illinois University strives to share knowledge and enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM). STEM Read is funded by NIU’s Center for P-20 Engagement in the Division of Outreach, Engagement, and Regional Development.

To register for the STEM Read Summer Institute or for more information, visit