STEAMing It Up: NIU conference offers hot ideas for inspiring K-12 students

Formal and informal educators will get to experience hands-on activities that they can easily incorporate into their own classes.
Formal and informal educators will get to experience hands-on activities
that they can easily incorporate into their own classes.

Robots in the classroom. Science-infused artwork. Digital storytelling.

Teachers will learn how to make their classrooms more exciting by adding the arts to STEM to produce STEAM (science, technology, arts, engineering and math) during “STEAMing It Up,” a one-day conference at NIU’s Gabel Hall from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Aug. 3.

Bringing STEAM into the classroom gets students fired up about interdisciplinary learning, fosters their creativity, and encourages them to relate the curriculum to their lives outside of school – all of which fits perfectly with the new Illinois Learning Standards for math, language arts and science. Conference attendees will participate in hands-on workshops, attend networking sessions and head home with ready-to-use classroom tools and lesson plans.

The keynote speaker is Tim Farquer, superintendent of Williamsfield School District 201.

In recent years, students from Williamsfield have engaged in a variety of interdisciplinary projects that address real-world issues and make their community a better place to live and learn. To improve access to healthy, locally-grown food, students built a hydroponics program that now provides fresh produce to the cafeteria.

Williamsfield students also recently participated in an industry-led renewable energy challenge. The school is considering the students’ proposal to implement a vertical wind turbine on the school that will serve as source of clean, renewable energy for a cell phone charging station. The district also testing biodiesel fuel and planning student-run workshops to educate community members on smart, renewable technology. Superintendent Farquer will discuss his experiences and share lessons learned.

“We all know the world is getting more and more interdisciplinary,” says Kristin Brynteson, assistant director of NIU’s innovative Center for P-20 Engagement, which organized the conference. “Being able to spot and tackle problems that crisscross traditional domains is increasingly valuable. So if teachers want their kids to be ready for the courses and careers of tomorrow, their lessons have to be interdisciplinary, too.”

Brynteson will facilitate several of the day’s breakout sessions and moderate a panel of educators who have successfully incorporated STEAM programming into their curriculum.

At a recent P-20 training session, teachers learned to draw inspiration from storybooks to teach young children about the engineering design cycle.
At a recent P-20 training session, teachers learned to draw inspiration from storybooks
to teach young children about the engineering design cycle.

“This conference will let teachers from across the region share their experiences of what works best for students,” she says. “They’ll talk about what really motivates them to make connections between school and the real world.”

Other breakout sessions will be facilitated by P-20 Center experts, who specialize in creating fun, high-energy, hands-on activities that often blend reading, art and creativity into STEM learning.

“This definitely isn’t just for STEM teachers,” says Erin Spencer, a P-20 Center curriculum developer who brings several years of experience as a high school physics teacher. “These are tools that can be used in all subject areas. It’s about getting a little bit out of your comfort zone, learning fun games for your classroom, and starting the new school year with a bunch of fresh ideas.”

The cost of $95 per person includes breakfast, lunch and parking. Professional Development Hours are available. Registration information and a full list of workshops are available online.

For more information, email kbrynteson@niu.edu.

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