Feb 4, 2016

STEM READ Professional Development

What would you do if a supervolcano erupted, your house caught on fire, you are all alone, and you had to travel across the country to reunite with family? Find out with the fast paced thriller, Ashfall!

The author, Mike Mullin, visited schools in Unit 5 and District 87 during the week before the Teacher Professional Development and provided some insight into his creative writing process while discussing the science aspect of the volcano and how he obtained his research. Mullin was engaging and students were able to interact with him before, during and after the presentations.



Ashfall - On Saturday, January 30, 2016, an EXPLOSIVE novel by Mike Mullin was the topic of discussion for the STEM READ Conference. With help from the EDC of Bloomington-Normal, NIU’s STEM READ Department, and the Stem Committee from Unit 5 and District 87, and the author, Mike Mullin; the NIU Stem Team led a Teacher Professional Development talk for about 120 teachers from Unit 5, District 87 and surrounding schools.

The professional development training on Saturday focused on how to use popular fiction in STEM curriculum. Gillian King-Cargile, Dr. Kristin Brynteson, Mary Baker and Erin Spencer all from NIU’s STEM READ provided an energetic, fun, hands-on program to demonstrate how teachers can use interactive games to explore the science, math, technology, reading and writing in a novel. The presenters talked about how “We break down barriers by encouraging collaboration among students with varying interest, backgrounds, and education levels.”

There were two sessions offered. The morning session put teachers in groups of 6 - 8 where they were given math, engineering, ethical and art challenges. The goal was stated for each challenge at the student and teacher level. Groups competed against each other using provided resources and additional resources they had with them. Some challenges were timed, where the first group to complete the challenge was the winner, and others had a general time frame. All challenges were developed to encourage collaboration within the group and highlight different skill sets of individuals. You can find the challenges Here.

The morning session ended with lunch when Mike Mullin presented how he started writing, the process he took, and the research behind the book Ashfall. It was an engaging presentation which ended with Mullin breaking a brick showing off his black belt in Taekwondo.

The afternoon sessions were geared towards how to setup this style of activity within a classroom and where to get the resources needed. The room was filled with a sense of excitement in the air as teachers engaged in a learning activity which left them inspired to try these activities in class. Cory Burnett, PJHS Science Teacher stated “I’m so glad you pushed me to go. It’s nice to get some affirmation about the direction I am going within my classroom.” Others indicated “Best PD in a long time.”


Thank-you to the NIU Stem Team, Mike Jones of District 87 and his team, Kevin Reeves of the EDC of Bloomington-Normal. We could not have pulled this off without all the people who collaborated on the project.

~Amber O’Day - Instructional Technology Coach

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