Program Design


FUSE is a new kind of interest-driven learning experience developed by researchers and educators in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. The program engages pre-teens and teens in science, technology, engineering, arts/design, and mathematics (STEAM) topics while fostering the development of important 21st century skills. FUSE is based on extensive research on interest development and interest-driven learning. Learn more about the research basis for FUSE here.

The core activities in our FUSE Studios are a set of challenges. Each challenge uses a leveling up model from gaming and is carefully designed to engage teens in different STEAM topics and skills sets. FUSE currently has dozens of challenges in areas such as robotics, electronics, biotechnology, graphic design, Android app development, 3D printing and more. New challenges are always in development.

FUSE appeals to the interests of all young people, especially those youth who are not interested in or don't think of themselves as "good at" math and science in school. Adults in FUSE play a new kind of role- they faciliate instead of instruct.

FUSE facilitators discuss their experiences in FUSE:


FUSE challenges provide a new way to explore science, technology, engineering, arts and design, and math in a fun and relaxed way.

A middle school teacher who runs FUSE after school
reflects on how she has seen FUSE engage girls:

In the FUSE Studio, youth choose challenges to work on based on what appeals to their own interests. As they level up through the challenge sequence, they learn new STEAM-based practices and develop critical skills such as adaptive problem solving, creativity, and persistence. The A in STEAM is engaged through design process, which brings each youth’s ideas and aesthetics to the foreground.

Teens and pre-teens at FUSE can “hang out, mess around and geek out” with peers. All challenges result in digital media artifacts that are shared online for peer review, remixing, expert feedback, and collaboration.

Facilitating FUSE has inspired teachers to adapt
some of their practices in the classroom:


Impacts of FUSE

FUSE researchers are studying the program’s impact on students, facilitators, and educators through studio observations, interviews, and website activity.

Youth impacts

FUSE Studios enable youth to discover new interests. Nearly all participating youth report that FUSE Studios resulted in their discovering a new interest and three quarters report that this new interest could be relevant to success in school, for future careers, or both. For example, some middle schoolers became so interested in the FUSE solar car challenge that they pooled their allowance money and purchased their own solar car kit so they could keep building and testing their car design during recess and after school.

FUSE Studios supports the development of flexible, adaptable problem solving and growing confidence in trying something new. Youth report an increase in their efforts to solve difficult problems they encounter as well as greater willingness to try something unfamiliar or challenging. For example, one middle school student tried an e-textile challenge and, working on it over the course of several months, discovered on his own that the on/off switches provided in the kits were leaking electricity and draining his battery. He was then able to devise a new kind of switch that avoided this problem, demonstrating the kind of persistence, flexibility, and confidence that are essential components of an engineering mindset.

Educator Impacts

Educators who lead FUSE Studios in their classrooms report that the program has helped them rethink aspects of their teaching practices in ‘regular’ classes. For example, teachers have recognized the value of FUSE’s design-oriented approach and have adopted that approach by asking their students to create, reflect on, and refine artifacts as they progress through assignments.

Institutional Impacts

FUSE has begun to impact the ways that schools think about student engagement and learning. Not only have schools replaced existing courses or carved out time during the school day to offer FUSE, many have also remodeled classrooms to create learning spaces that support the kind of design-thinking and interest-driven learning environment that FUSE provides.


District Partnerships

We have seen implementation at several of our district partners organically expand from one or two schools to district-wide adoption. We have been able to preserve the integrity of FUSE while still meeting the requirements of each school and district that has chosen to offer the program. Our in-school partnership in District 54 began in special STEM academies where there was greater flexibility in offering elective courses. In the subsequent expansion of FUSE into the district’s regular elementary curriculum, we have shaped FUSE into a Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-aligned FUSE unit that is being implemented as part of the district’s new standard science curriculum for all 5th and 6th graders in 2016-17.

District 54 administrators and principals
talk about the impacts of implementing FUSE:


Industry Partnerships

From the outset, the FUSE design approach has engaged industry and academic partners in the design of challenges. This has been a principled way to ensure that the challenges we present to students have authentic ties to industry and disciplinary practices and skills. To date, ten popular challenges have been designed in partnership with industry or disciplinary professionals.


Hear about our partnership with Christopher Duquet Fine Jewelry
on the Jewelry Design Challenge:




Join Us

FUSE is offered in-school, after-school, and on the weekends at many locations in the greater Chicago area and nationally. To learn more about bringing FUSE to your school, please contact the program director at