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NIU STEM Read partners with bestselling author Andy Weir to explore how science fiction fuels STEAM learning

June 18, 2018

At the upcoming International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Chicago, NIU STEM Read will partner with Andy Weir – bestselling author of The Martian and Artemis – to explore how science fiction fuels STEAM learning.

Highlights of the collaboration include a keynote presentation in which NIU STEM Read Director Gillian King-Cargile will interview Weir; a panel discussion on using fiction to fuel STEAM learning; a session on Gamifying Artemis, in which attendees will have a chance to play the STEM Read game based on Weir’s latest book; and a professional development “party on the moon” for STEAM educators.

Andy Weir at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. (Photo credit: NASA/James Blair and Lauren Harnett)

NIU STEM Read first collaborated with Andy Weir in 2015, when STEM Read chose Weir’s book The Martian as one of their featured books for teens. STEM Read and their partners in NIU STEM Outreach developed lesson plans, activities and videos related to The Martian, and Andy Weir sat down for an online interview with King-Cargile and teens from NIU STEM and creative writing camps in July of 2015.

Weir, who worked as a software engineer until the success of The Martian allowed him to live out his dream of writing fulltime, is a natural collaborator for the NIU STEM Read team, whose mission is to integrate language arts, math and new science standards to help teachers increase enthusiasm for reading and learning.

King-Cargile says, “We’re thrilled to bring Andy Weir to the Chicago area. His books are hilarious and, at the same time, rooted in hard science. His diverse characters are whip-smart. They use brains and humor to solve problems and save lives. Andy is intelligent, funny and proud of being a geek. He’s the perfect partner to help us inspire teens and adults to read and learn more.”

King-Cargile and Kristin Brynteson, director of professional development for the NIU P-20 Center, are also excited to deepen their relationship with ISTE and connect with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) educators through the organization.

Brynteson says, “The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is a global community of educators who recognize the power of technology to transform learning. The ISTE annual conference is one of my favorite educational events during the year. It is where I go to explore new tech, hear inspirational stories, see innovative classroom ideas and talk to and learn from inspiring educators. For me, ISTE is my time to recharge my edtech batteries.”

“The panels and presentations will be an opportunity for educators to learn more about our approach to STEM/STEAM teaching and learning as well as how we connect these concepts to fiction,” Brysteson says. “In our hands-on sessions, educators will have an opportunity to experience the activities and try them out. They will be fun, loud and messy. That’s how we like it!”

She continues, “We want our panels to be an exchange of ideas and sharing of resources. We love to share what we are doing but we also enjoy hearing from other educators how they are using their favorite books to connect students to STEAM.”

The ISTE conference will take place June 24-27, 2018, at McCormick Place in Chicago (

As part of Weir’s visit, the STEM Read team is also planning public events to give teens, parents and educators a chance to meet and hear from Weir.

On Tuesday, June 26, from 6 to 8 p.m., they will host a professional development party for STEAM educators at 1871, Chicago’s entrepreneurship and innovation space overlooking the Chicago River, 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza, Suite 1212.

The event is $30 for the general public and $25 for those attending the ISTE conference (with a coupon code provided by ISTE). Space is limited, so register in advance at

From 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 28, teens and parents are invited to Argonne National Laboratory for an evening with special guest Andy Weir, best-selling author of The Martian and Artemis, as well as researchers involved in energy storage, super-computing and nanotechnology. The event, “Future Telling: Imagining and Creating a Better World,” will explore how these experts forged their career paths and how creativity spurs innovation to bring about a brighter future.

 The event is free, but advanced registration is required at

For more information, contact Kristin Brynteson ([email protected]) or Gillian King-Cargile ([email protected]).