NIU’s STEM Read hosts ‘I Heart Engineering’

Andrea Beaty
Andrea Beaty

What wacky contraption would you create to keep snakes from slithering onto your head?

Children got the chance to answer that question Feb. 7 at the “I <3 Engineering” event at the DuPage Children’s Museum in Naperville.

NIU STEM Read partnered with DuPage Children’s Museum and author Andrea Beaty to present a night of hands-on science and engineering activities related to Beaty’s best-selling children’s book “Rosie Revere, Engineer.”

In the book, plucky young Rosie learns to “dream the bold dreams of a great engineer” by inventing contraptions like cheese-shooting helmets and helium pants out of old fans, wire, spare doll parts and other trash and treasures.

During the Feb. 7 event, more than 230 museum visitors got the chance to meet the author, participate in a museum-wide scavenger hunt and make their own snake-repelling helmets with help from STEM Outreach Associate Pettee Guerrero and Northern Illinois University students majoring in science and engineering.

Readers can continue the fun with online games, videos and activities from NIU STEM Read.

The program uses popular fiction books as a gateway to help readers explore the science behind the fiction. To do this, STEM Read sponsors live events throughout the year and creates free online videos with STEM experts, games, collaborative writing prompts, art activities and lesson plans that align with Illinois state learning standards.

STEM Read works with youth librarians and other literary experts to find fun, engaging books that will spark curiosity in readers. They have hosted live events with authors Cory Doctorow (“Little Brother”), Ilsa J. Bick (“Ashes”), Colleen Doran (“Orbiter”), Mike Mullin (“Ashfall”), Kat Falls (“Dark Life”) and others. On Wednesday, April 9, STEM Read will explore the science behind “The Maze Runner” when author James Dashner visits NIU during a field trip event for high schoolers.

NIU STEM READ logo
Gillian King-Cargile coordinates STEM Read and is excited to expand the program’s offerings to younger readers.

“We started out highlighting young adult books through NIU’s STEM Teen Read program,” says King-Cargile, “but teachers and librarians loved the concept of exploring the science behind the fiction and really clamored for us to add books for younger children, too.”

STEM Outreach Associate Pettee Guerrero recreated a functioning model of the snake-repelling helmet from “Rosie Revere, Engineer.”
STEM Outreach Associate Pettee Guerrero recreated a functioning model of the snake-repelling helmet from “Rosie Revere, Engineer.”

In addition to the fiction books they highlight, STEM Read will also recommend related non-fiction books and biographies so that readers can continue to learn more about topics they enjoy. In their recent exploration of the science of flight, STEM Read worked with SmartSpace@NIU and again partnered with DuPage Children’s Museum for “Just Plane Awesome.”

Mary Baker, NIU’s SmartSpace coordinator, helped children create paper airplanes to demonstrate principles of lift, weight, drag and thrust.

The SmartSpace@NIU website, a trove of online innovations for learning, now includes templates and video tutorials for creating paper airplanes, and a video featuring Pettee Guerrero explaining flight. These activities are also linked to the wordless picture book “The Boy and The Airplane” and the children’s biography “I Am Amelia Earhart” on STEM Read.

King-Cargile says that the “I <3 Engineering” event was the perfect way to kick off STEM Read programming for young readers. “This was a big party to celebrate reading and engineering,” she says. “We couldn’t have asked for better partners than the DuPage Children’s Museum and Andrea Beaty. We all believe that if we help foster children’s creativity and imagination today, they just might become the leaders and innovators of tomorrow.”

King-Cargile says that this relationship will help pave the way toward additional local programs. “We love working with DuPage Children’s Museum,” she says, “and we hope to eventually bring these engaging programs to a community learning center in DeKalb.”

For more information, email gkingcargile@niu.edu.

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