Building Skills For Tomorrow Through Art and Science

by Kathie Brown
University of Illinois Extension

The U of I Extension is working to strengthen STEAM education in the region with a variety of collaborators.

Above: University of Illinois Extension STEM specialist Keith Jacobs teaches how to solder blinky badges at a Teacher Tuesdays event.

The complexities of today’s world require all people to be equipped with a new set of core knowledge and skills to solve difficult problems. Engaging in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) learning activities helps develop these skills and prepares students for a workforce in which success results not just from what one knows, but what one is able to do with that knowledge. Greater Peoria is fortunate to have a large number of individuals and organizations willing to engage in strengthening STEAM education for the region.

Increasing Impact
This past spring, University of Illinois Extension brought together experts and leaders in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics to share their ideas and recommendations. The half-day workshop at the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum took place in collaboration with Illinois Informatics Institute and the Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab. More than 30 individuals participated, representing a wide range of expertise. The group developed a report that embraced the following core vision for how STEAM education can impact students:

Engaging in STEAM educational activities provides youth with opportunities to foster critical thinking skills and inspires young people to engage in innovative learning experiences, which can also help:

  1. Lead to improved high school graduation rates;
  2. Develop creative problem solving skills sets among our future workforce; and
  3. Develop collaborative skill sets among our youth.


Canton architect William Phillips engages sixth graders in the engineering design process by building structures with spaghetti.

The report focuses on strategies that will allow us to leverage and strengthen our “communities of practice”—drawing upon the knowledge, tools, resources and expertise of many to create rich teaching and learning experiences, both within and outside of formal school settings. Through a series of stories in iBi, we hope to share with you many of the organizations engaged in STEAM education for the benefit of organizations, schools and museums, as well as youth. Watch this space to learn more about our region’s growing STEAM Community of Practice.

Teacher Tuesdays
Teacher Tuesdays is an ongoing program that allows professional educators from all types of organizations to network and learn more about the amazing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) resources and careers available in central Illinois. This professional development programming is designed to foster peer-to-peer support, introduce new resources, and provide networking with businesses and organizations promoting STEM education. Here are a few quotes from teachers who participated during the past year:

  • “New ideas are great for staying inspired in the classroom.”
  • “Beneficial to touch base with teachers and learn what is happening in the classroom.”
  • “We are discussing ways to make better use of community resources in the classroom.”

During the first year of Teacher Tuesdays, the program reached more than 300 educators from nine counties throughout Illinois. Those educators represented 120 schools and out-of-school organizations with the potential to reach 33,000 youth. Programming partners include: River City Labs, Caterpillar Inc., Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, Peoria Riverfront Museum, Bradley University Center for STEM Education, Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum, Morton and East Peoria school districts, and ICE-HOI (Illinois Computing Educators - Heart of Illinois).

In addition, an online network named Tech Teachers GP was created to expand the impact of Teacher Tuesdays. If you are interested in learning more about the resources and ideas shared through this collaboration, join the Facebook group (facebook.com/groups/TECHTeacherGP). Watch for programming activities on our blog (web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb392) or on Facebook. iBi

Kathie Brown is a community and economic development educator with the University of Illinois Extension, Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit.

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