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Sparking Interest in STEAM Education Through Student Choice and Project-Based Learning

Pendergast Elementary School District (PESD) in Glendale, AZ, has pursued the ambitious goal of developing a district-wide, student-centered, project-based learning culture. They implemented FUSE Studios, a research-based STEAM platform created by and housed within Northwestern University and funded by the Macarthur Foundation and National Science Foundation among others to support their goal. FUSE Studios puts student interest and agency at the center of its approach. Instead of moving all students through the same adult-selected tasks at the same time in the same sequence, students using FUSE Studios instead choose from among more than 30 leveled challenge sequences in areas such as 3D design and printing, digital animation, robotics, and making-with-electronics. 

In-depth classroom research has shown that students develop essential 21st-century skills in FUSE; they learn to persist, to teach and learn from their peers, and to be adaptive problem-solvers. This research has also shown students genuinely enjoy their learning experiences in FUSE, which has implications for their choices about future STEM activities.  

Now in its 12th year, FUSE Studios has grown through word-of-mouth from a small demonstration project to a program implemented in over 250 schools in the US and abroad, serving more than 50,000 young people during the 2022-23 school year. The majority of students using FUSE are from historically marginalized student populations.