NIU STEAM is comprised of several distinct yet related programs. Each takes a different approach to STEAM learning and exploration by focusing on different outcomes even though the content catalysts remain consistent throughout. This results in a continuum of high-quality, research-based STEAM programming that can be differentiated to meet the individual needs of schools and communities
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NIU's Center for P-20 Engagement will work together to change the lived experience of members of our programs, our communities and our world.
NIU STEAM will provide students, educators and community members with experiences that increase individual STEM/STEAM knowledge and skills while inspiring curiosity, creativity and collaboration.
The Northern Illinois University STEAM family of programs provides interdisciplinary educational experiences that spark curiosity, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. STEAM content experts engage and collaborate to design and implement STEAM programming that is differentiated to meet the individual needs of schools and communities.
NIU STEAM programs are within the NIU Center for P-20 Engagement and the result of 15 years of research, design, implementation and review - a continuous improvement model that results in cutting-edge programs that evolve in concert with emerging instructional changes and demands. Our programs cover everything from individual skill development to massive community involvement projects. NIU STEAM programs reach urban, suburban and rural schools and NIU STEAM is active in local, regional, state, national, and international communities. These experiences have resulted in a program philosophy dedicated to ensuring high achievement that embraces cultural diversity and is driven by the desire to establish educational equity through high-quality education programs for all students.
Our approach uses the core content as the conduit for students to engage in inquiry, dialogue, critical thinking, and creativity. The approach emphasizes applying knowledge to real life problems and societal issues. Our experiences build STEAM content knowledge, encourage curiosity, and foster creative thinking. We want learners to develop an enthusiasm for learning through collaborative hands-on experiences. Our programs include activities designed to help learners experience productive struggle and become comfortable with the idea that failure is a positive and essential part of learning.
The NIU STEAM programs provide students, educators, and community members with experiences that increase knowledge and skills while inspiring curiosity, creativity, and collaboration. There are six content components of our framework called catalysts, and these catalysts generate three tiers of impact. Each catalyst is identified in research and our practice as essential to effective systemic program improvement and successful development of a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) culture. Read more about our catalysts and tiers of impact in the framework tab.
Cycle of Continuous Improvement
NIU STEAM will establish an ethos of data-informed and evidence-based continuous improvement throughout the school with a continuous improvement cycle aligned to the Illinois Balanced Accountability Measure (IBAM) Quality Framework. We believe that learning – much like problem solving, design, and creative expression – is an iterative process. Learning through inquiry, exploration, creation, and failure is not a discrete event, but a repeating process. The four elements in NIU STEAM's continuous improvement cycle are the same four elements in the NIU STEAM Design Cycle. Applying continuous improvement throughout the work, whether in a lesson, classroom or across the full three-year project ensures that the project is implemented with fidelity and guided by data-informed evidence-based continuous improvement. The elements for continuous improvement are defined below.
- Ask and define - We ask questions to understand, clarify, define our purpose and set goals. This is done through a needs assessment process that drives goal-setting and determines outcomes.
- Plan and apply - With our goals in mind, we plan actions that include a time for reflection and monitoring as the plan unfolds throughout the project.
- Create and observe – Creating detailed actions that include timeline, people responsible and metrics to measure ensure that implementation will be ongoing and not stall due to indecision or lack of clarity. Within those actions are opportunities to observe and/or reflect on the quality and fidelity of the implementation.
- Evaluate and improve - We evaluate, using our observations, to identify strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities to improve. We begin the cycle again by asking the next set of questions that will continue to guide improvements.
At the center of this process is share and collaborate. Each team member brings unique skills and knowledge that can assist in developing outcomes. Collaboration, sharing, and listening to feedback while brainstorming, designing, and creating, can inspire new ideas.
NIU STEAM is committed to an iterative process throughout all programming, and this ensures that there is a continuous improvement approach to all of our work. Our commitment is to work together to change the lived experience of members of your program and community.
NIU STEAM works with more than 15,000 K-12 students and almost 20,000 community members each year. Our large-scale projects include a full day, free community STEM Fest that highlights more than 100 NIU, regional and corporate exhibitors in STEM fields offering hands-on activities for STEM-fans of all ages. We have more than 500 students in STEM/STEAM residential and day camps on campus each summer.
During the year we also work with more than 2500 K-12 teachers and administrators in skill-building activities that range from a regional STEM conference of more than 100 participants to a recent grant-funded series of 125 hours of professional learning sessions to more than 160 teachers. We also have the privilege to work with teachers in individual classroom coaching across 12 districts and have more than 300 educators community-building and sharing in our online MOODLE. Our online community has access to more than 300 original online full unit and mini STEAM lessons aligned to standards and piloted by teachers.
We collaborate with more than 100 NIU faculty members who share their research, expertise and passion for STEM/STEAM and help us bring together approximately 1500 NIU students both as participants, leaders, camp counselors, mentors, student workers and grad assistants.
Our non-grant budget exceeds $1.8 million annually and our grant awards exceeded $3.6 million in 2019.
NIU STEAM programming is offered within a conceptual framework that is robust, comprehensive and research-based. There are six content components of this framework called catalysts, and these catalysts are used to generate three tiers of impact. Each catalyst is identified in research and our practice as essential to effective systemic program improvement and successful development of a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) culture. While identified individually, we know that all elements of a system are unavoidably interconnected. Our commitment is to work together to change the lived experience of members of your program and community.
NIU STEAM Research-based Content Through Our Catalysts
- Catalyst 1: Problem (Project)-based Learning. Effective STEAM education focuses on increased learning through engagement with a meaningful, real-world problem.
- Catalyst 2: STEAM Concepts and Content. Effective STEAM education increases learner understanding of the educational concepts and content being explored.
- Catalyst 3: 21st Century Skills. Effective STEAM education positively impacts learner outcomes of collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity.
- Catalyst 4: Growth and Persistence. STEAM education positively impacts students' engagement in productive struggle and their focus on growth rather than on a fixed perception of their academic ability.
- Catalyst 5: Career Connections. Effective STEAM education fosters persistence in pursuit of STEM/STEAM degrees and careers, responding to and helping to shape the future of local communities and their economic development.
- Catalyst 6: Trans-disciplinary Approaches. Effective STEAM education engages learners with meaningful, real-world problems (see Catalyst 1) in a manner that empowers them as researchers and co-directors of their own learning, encouraging them to discover the roots of the issues they are exploring across myriad disciplines instead of a limited number of pre-identified choices.
NIU STEAM Differentiated Impact
Tier 1 Impact—Inspiration
Sparking curiosity, interest and imagination through amazing and interactive NIU STEAM activities. Sample Tier 1 outcomes:
- Enhanced awareness of the interconnectedness of different subjects with each other and with phenomena encountered in the world.
- Increased interest in a variety of academic subjects.
- Expanded recognition of the connection between academic subjects and professional occupations.
- Accelerated interest from faculty/instructional staff in curricular collaboration.
Tier 2 Impact—Amplification
Building organizational capacity and skills through deeper engagement with NIU STEAM strategies. Sample Tier 2 outcomes:
- Augmentation of problem-based and cooperative learning techniques.
- Acceleration of lesson development or design/redesign.
- Expansion of efforts toward collaborative teaching.
Tier 3 Impact—Transformation
Cultivating systemic change across an organization with sustained NIU STEAM engagement. Sample Tier 3 outcomes:
- Partial or systemic curriculum design to fully incorporate all six catalysts in the school or program instruction and assessment.
- Development and deployment of districtwide events and initiatives.
- Conversion of one or more schools to STEAM schools or STEAM programming resulting in a transformation across the entire school or program.
- Creating STEM/STEAM career pathways that result in endorsements on high school diplomas and/or dual credit for acceleration in postsecondary degrees or credentials
|Framework||Program Activities||Competency-based Metrics||Outcomes|
STEAMing It Up Professional Development
Measured, demonstrated competency in our catalysts have positive results:
Percent and number of participating staff with demonstrated competencies for designing and delivering curriculum, instruction and assessment that increase equity and address needs of the whole child.
All NIU STEAM programming combines content catalysts taught with differentiated delivery options. This provides maximum flexibility to meet our clients’ needs. Choosing among all of our programs in a menu can be overwhelming, so we use a backward-mapping process that first identifies essential, intended outcomes.
|Tier 1 – Inspiration||Tier 2 – Amplification||Tier 3 – Transformation|
|NIU STEAM Catalysts||Experience learning opportunities that foster participant choice and excitement, spark inspiration and encourage curiosity in STEAM.||Design and deliver learning opportunities that increase participants’ STEAM skills, knowledge and expertise||Provide continuing learning opportunities that revolutionize participants’ daily STEAM experiences.|
|Local Context||Connect individual interests with community needs.||Plan, deliver and evaluate collaborative activities with leaders and community resources.||Provide a pipeline for local community STEAM development.|
|Problem-based Learning||Answer questions and solve problems of individual interest through hands-on exploration.||Answer questions and solve authentic STEAM problems.||Answer multi-layered questions and solve complex, authentic problems with teammates from other entities.|
|Growth and Persistence||Repeatedly attempt and fail to solve problems, learning the ways to improve and eventually succeed||Solve complex problems experiencing repeated failures without consequences while persisting to a successful solution.||Create participant mindsets that welcome failure as part of the learning process and build skills for persisting to success|
|21st Century Skills||Communicate verbally and in writing, showing creativity and critical thinking both individually and in teams.||Communicate in a variety of ways with team members in multi-faceted challenges that require creativity and critical thinking.||Demonstrate highly developed skills in communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking across teams and for various audiences|
|STEAM Content and Concepts||Participate in unstructured, inquiry-based STEAM activities to develop content knowledge and skills.||Demonstrate competencies in new STEAM content and/ or skills.||Create useful products or solutions that demonstrate higher-order STEAM content and/or skills.|
|Career Connections||Experience STEAM career fields including fairs, speakers, and job shadowing.||Demonstrate technical and employability competencies in STEAM careers.||Complete career pathways that include internships and other work-based experiences needed for STEAM careers.|
|Transdisciplinary Approaches||Engage with interesting problems or questions that drive efforts to learn more across various disciplines.||Solve problems or answer questions that require learning content in several disciplines||Demonstrate cross-discipline studies to fully answer a question and/or solve the problem.|
|Tier 1 – Inspiration||Tier 2 – Amplification||Tier 3 – Transformation|
|NIU STEAM Catalysts||Experience learning opportunities with outcomes that support participant choice and excitement, spark inspiration and encourage curiosity||Design and deliver learning opportunities with outcomes that change participant’s skills.||Provide continuing learning opportunities with outcomes that revolutionize participants’ daily experiences.|
|Local Context||Connect individual interests with community needs.||Plan, deliver and evaluate connections with leaders and community resources.||Provide an educational pipeline for local community development|
|Problem-based Learning||Answer questions and solve problems of individual interest through hands-on exploration.||Answer questions and solve problems as part of regular classroom instruction.||Write curricula that answer questions and solve complex, authentic problems in STEAM disciplines.|
|Growth and Persistence||Repeatedly attempt and fail to solve problems, learning ways to improve and eventually succeed.||Solve complex problems experiencing repeated failures without consequences while persisting to a successful solution.||Create participant mindsets that welcome failure as part of the learning process and build skills for persisting to success.|
|21st Century Skills||Communicate verbally and in writing, showing creativity and critical thinking both individually and in teams.||Communicate in a variety of ways with team members in multifaceted challenges that require creativity and critical thinking||Demonstrate highly developed skills in communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.|
|STEAM Content and Concepts||Participate in unstructured, inquiry-based STEAM activities to develop content knowledge and skills.||Experience and/or design STEAM lessons.||Engage with rigorous STEAM content.|
|Career Connections||Experience STEAM career fields including fairs, speakers and job shadowing.||Attain technical and employability skills including opportunities for skill-based challenges in STEAM careers.||Complete career pathways that include internships and other work-based experiences needed for career endorsements.|
|Transdisciplinary Approaches||Engage with interesting problems or questions that drive efforts to learn more across various disciplines.||Introduce phenomena or questions that set up the need to learn content in several disciplines.||Develop curricula that use the cross-discipline study to completely understand the issue or solve the problem.|
Collaborative Innovation Cycle
This model represents the iterative process of development and problem solving that leads to innovation and discovery. This cycle is a guide for engineering-design or problem-solving projects as well as a media or art production. Collaboration is essential across the entire process. Each team member brings a unique set of skills and knowledge that can assist in the development of the outcome.
Evaluate and Improve
We evaluate, using our observations, to determine whether the creation meets our defined goals. We evaluate to identify strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities to improve. Begin the cycle again by asking questions to guide the improvements.
Ask and Define
We ask questions to understand. The right questions help us clarify and better understand the problem or initiate investigation. Even in creative projects such as writing or media production, the process starts with asking questions. The process of evaluating and selecting key questions help us define our purpose and set goals.
Create and Observe
We create when we execute the plan to build, produce or develop. Creating leads to an outcome that we can observe. We observe through testing, collecting data, observing reactions, and receiving feedback.
Plan and Apply
With our goals in mind, we plan. Planning may include brainstorming, sketching, discussing, and doing research. We apply knowledge throughout the process, however, we emphasize the step here because you will use the information and knowledge you gained during the planning process to put your plan into action and create a product.
We share across the entire process. Sharing and listening to feedback while brainstorming, designing, and creating may inspire new ideas. It is also important to share the final product and accept feedback. Final sharing can take many forms from a traditional presentation to a multi-media presentation including videos, blog posts or websites.
This work is licensed by NIU’s Center for P-20 Engagement under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Sharealike 4.0 International License.