SPrEaD: Broadening implementation of an innovative STEAM learning environment: Scaling up FUSE Studios through two models of partnership engagement with industry and schools

Project: Research project

Project Details


We propose a Broad Implementation project to study the adoption and spread of an informal STEM learning innovation into schools called FUSE Studios. FUSE was initially designed and implemented in familiar informal learning environments (ILEs) but in partnership with a large school district in the Chicago area, it has moved into the school day, without losing its defining features as an ILE. Building on this and other district level partnerships with 50 schools in Illinois, California, and Ohio that have adopted FUSE, we propose to strategically broaden the implementation of the FUSE Studios ILE into more districts and study the contextual factors that support or impede this broader implementation.

Based on evidence from our NSF-funded research that FUSE Studios are achieving many of the goals of informal STEM education (NRC, 2015) but in a school context, we argue that FUSE provides a strategic testbed to study the adoption of informal STEM learning environments into schools. This project adopts a systematic and purposeful research-driven broader implementation plan that introduces the FUSE model into selected schools and districts and examines the adoption, diffusion, and adaptation of the model in these different contexts. Like the Fifth Dimension project that partially inspired the FUSE model, we are particularly interested in “tracing implementations in widely disparate conditions” (Cole & Engeström, 2006, p. 500).

The dilemma we seek to address with this project is that while schools provide experiences for all children, these are typically not the kinds of experiences that the best research on STEM education and from the learning sciences support (e.g. Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999; Sawyer, 2005, 2014). These productive learning experiences are often well supported in ‘informal’ settings (NRC, 2015), but are often accessible to the relatively few or accessed mostly by young people already ‘enfranchised’ (Dawson, 2014, p. 210). Certainly, important informal education efforts, many funded by AISL, seek to address these limitations, but the ‘locations’ of informal education within wider socio-economic geographies make truly broad implementation very difficult.  

Intellectual Merit

We propose to explore how an informal and alternative learning environment called FUSE Studios has and can be implemented and sustained within public schools; this we argue to be the our project’s unique strategic contribution and innovation. The research will study aligned and misaligned adaptations of FUSE in schools and focus research on generalizable insights into how best to support schools (including under-resourced schools and those serving underrepresented populations) in implementing and sustaining innovative informal education models and practices. At the same time, we will study productive adaptations as well as ‘lethal mutations’ (Brown, 1992) of the FUSE model in schools as evidence of the social, cultural, material, philosophical, and economic constraints that inhibit the uptake and sustainability of innovations in school. FUSE Studios is our test case, because it represents a unique situation: an informal learning environment implemented at relatively wide scale within schools. We argue that what we will learn in pursuing and studying broader implementation with FUSE Studios will produce generalizable and contextualized understandings for future ambitious attempts from informal educators to bring their initiatives to schools in ways that are sustainable and impactful for student learning and engagement on a large scale. 
Effective start/end date4/1/173/31/21


  • National Science Foundation (DRL-1657438-002)


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