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Scaling up an innovative STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Mathematics) learning environment through two partnership models with industry and schools: 1657438

Principal Investigator: Reed Stevens
CoPrincipal Investigator(s):
Organization: Northwestern University

This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students’ motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). The project will foster and research the broad implementation of an integrated suite of science, technology, engineering, arts/design, and mathematics (STEAM) learning innovations into schools called FUSE Studios. FUSE is a new kind of interest-driven learning experience that engages pre-teens and teens in learning technical, STEM workforce relevant skills and trans-disciplinary skills-often called 21st century skills, such as self-regulation, persistence, leadership, and critical thinking skills. The core activities in FUSE are a set of challenges. Each challenge uses a leveling up model from gaming and is carefully designed to engage participants in different STEAM topics and skill sets. FUSE currently has several dozen challenges areas such as robotics, electronics, biotechnology, graphic design, Android app development, 3D printing and more. Current project research demonstrates that FUSE is sparking and developing student interest in STEAM and information and communications technology (ICT) fields, especially among students who have not previously considered these career directions. The insights generated by this project will aid school leaders and teachers in adopting and organizing experiences for their students that emphasize youth interests, choice, diverse modes of interaction with knowledgeable others, and a wide range of innovative and heterogeneous learning opportunities in STEAM and ICT. Over the course of this project, FUSE Studios will double its current active reach by expanding to 40 new schools, with 160 new FUSE studios, and reach 16,000-21,400 new students, particularly underrepresented, minority students in under-resourced schools.

The project will research two distinct but complementary strategies, for significantly broadening the implementation of FUSE. These two strategies are called the direct district engagement model and the industry partnership model. The research will focus on how these strategies are successful (or not) in leading to sustainable adoption and spread. Each strategy is designed to respond to distinct organizational conditions found in local schools and districts. The proposed project will investigate three distinct but related aspects of spreading a successful intervention: (a) the process of spreading FUSE project through the two strategies noted above, (b) the life cycle of an intervention (getting in, getting rooted, and spread) and, (c) the ways in which the project is adopted and adapted in different settings (nature of modifications and their impact on integrity of the program). The project will use the concept of a “tracer” from biological research as an analytic device to systematically follow how different institutions adopt, adapt and sustain the innovation (i.e., the FUSE model). In brief, the research will follow how FUSE gets rooted and spreads when it is introduced to the different schools and districts. The research will be guided by the Actor theory Network (ACT), which provides a set of empirical heuristics and concepts for tracing how ideas, practices and artifacts move and become progressively stabilized within social contexts. Studying the broad implementation of FUSE Studios will produce generalizable understandings of how innovative educational, workforce-related, technology experiences can be brought into schools in impactful and sustainable ways on a large scale. This research will make valuable contributions to the important and understudied question of how learning innovations are effectively scaled up.

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