Unit 4 Magnet Schools

Robots, Reading, Rewards: Franklin Partners with NIU for STEM Read

A group of students collaborating on a project.

What happens when nature and technology collide?

On April 2, the entire eighth grade—nearly 200 students—at Franklin STEAM Academy explored the possibilities with a team competition that combined reading, robotics, ecology, art, and animal adaption.

A group of students collaborating on a project involving sticks and hay.

It’s part of Franklin’s partnership with Northern Illinois University and its STEM Read program, which inspires students to learn STEM concepts in popular fiction.

Franklin’s selected STEM Read book, “The Wild Robot” by Peter Brown, follows Roz the Robot, who struggles to survive on a remote island. She overcomes threats from violent weather, animal predators, and loneliness by adapting to her surroundings.

While reading it, all eighth-graders participated in what magnet schools coordinator Zanne Newman calls a “‘stay-field trip’—similar to a stay-cation—almost like camp for a day.” Packing the gym, students were grouped into 32 six-person teams to compete, solve challenges, and win prizes through hands-on activities and interactive games based on the book.

Another group of students collaborating on a project involving sticks and hay.

“The best part was watching the kids work together and ‘get it,’” says Newman. “They didn’t think of it as ‘boring learning.’”

For example, one challenge involved developing the best camouflage for Roz the Robot. “The kids used natural items like hay, moss, and clay to help Roz survive,” Newman explains. And along with logic puzzles, animal identification, and robotics activities, the competition included an arts component. “Teams created posters that depicted the benefits of Roz becoming part of the island.”

Students were judged on criteria such as accuracy, speed, and quality of work. The three highest-scoring teams won backpacks and t-shirts.

“All eighth-graders participated, including our Functional Life Skills (FLS) students, who won second place overall,” says Newman.

When it comes to holding another STEM Read event, Newman says, “We actually hope to create our own program for each grade level. This summer, we’re meeting with our NIU partners to see how we make that happen.”