NIU STEM Read presents Quarantine: The Summer Camp

Quarantine The Loners

by Lara Neel, Trade Marketing Manager

The STEM Read program at Northern Illinois University has created a “Quarantine: The Summer Camp,” program based on the popular young adult novel by Lex Thomas. This residential camp for students entering grades 9 through 12 will immerse students in a week of writing, science and games based on the world of this dystopian novel.

The camp, which runs from July 21-26 at Northern Illinois University, will feature lab visits, meetings with experts and the book’s authors, short-story writing, and hands-on science and art challenges, culminating in a final game based on the novel.

Registration is now open at

I checked in with STEM Read director Gillian King-Cargile for more details.

Q&A About Quarantine

Authors Thomas Voorhies and Lex Hrabe speak to students and teachers at a STEM Read field trip in the fall of 2015. The “Quarantine” summer camp will expand on many of the activities from the field trip. Photo courtesy of the STEM Read program.

What inspired you to create a camp based on the Quarantine book series?

As soon as I finished Quarantine: The Loners, I knew I wanted to create a STEM Read event around it. I love the action and the gore and the entirely flawed, entirely human characters. The writing is very cinematic. It moves at a great clip. Nothing is wasted. I like to think of it as The Lord of the Flies meets The Breakfast Club. I knew I had to share such a fun, crazy book with as many people as possible. In 2015, STEM Read created a day-long game based on the book. We “quarantined” 220 students in an empty school. We greeted them wearing hazmat suits and blasted water at their buses with fire hoses to decontaminate them.

We divided the students into tribes. We sprayed their heads with colored hair spray. Then we challenged them to design costumes for their leaders, simulate the spread of disease, engineer devices to carry supplies, and barter and trade to come up with as many resources as possible to help their tribes survive the quarantine. Along the way, the students got advice from a costume designer, an economist, an engineer, and a virologist.

They also got to meet Lex Thomas. This ended up being one of STEM Read’s favorite events. We also kept getting requests from students and teachers to run the event again. But you can only do so much in one day. We knew that the book had so many more concepts to explore. The summer camp allows us to dig deeper into all of those great STEM concepts, but it also gives us the opportunity to have students visit labs, interact with experts, and learn more about the careers behind those concepts. The camp also gives us the opportunity to explore the book itself, to look at the way Lex Thomas crafted the story and brought the characters to life and made us jump and laugh and gag.

Campers will spend a lot of the week using what they learn to create their own stories in the world of the Quarantine Series. They’ll even participate in a writing workshop with Lex Thomas. This camp is for kids who love science and engineering. It’s also for kids who have never ever thought about being scientists and engineers. It’s for kids who are avid readers and for kids who have never finished a book. It’s for writers and cosplayers and athletes and mathletes and anyone who wants to have a totally unique experience visiting the world of a great book.

You can watch an overview of the 2015 event here.

STEM Read uses costumes, sound effects and other devices to bring students into the world of the book. Photo courtesy of the STEM Read program.

How could a teacher or librarian bring the Quarantine Camp experience to their students or patrons?

If teachers or librarians want to use STEM Read’s activities at their location, they can check out our free standards-aligned resources related to the book at They can also contact us for training sessions on how we create our activities and run our book-based field trips. Additionally, we host the STEM Read Summer Institute at Northern Illinois University so that educators from across the country can experience our newest field trips and get access to all of our field trip materials. This year’s Institute is July 24 to 26 and Lex Thomas will be on hand to help teachers experience their book, and several others, through hands-on STEAM challenges.

Do you have lesson plans available?

All of our lesson plans, expert videos, and interviews with Lex Thomas are available at

Do you have any tips about how to create a book-based experience for students and library patrons?

The most important thing is to find an amazing book like Quarantine: The Loners. We try to pick fun, action-filled books that will lend themselves to interesting hands-on challenges. We also cast a wide net. We don’t just look for traditional science fiction. Instead, we look for books that offer opportunities to explore and make connections. For example, if you read a description of Quarantine: The Loners, you might not immediately think “STEM!” but the characters are creating an entirely new civilization inside the confines of their school.

Resources are scarce. Outside help is virtually nonexistent. The students need to come up with some very innovative survival skills very quickly. They turn their social weaknesses into strengths. They create a new economic system within the school. They engineer ways to gather food, to protect themselves, or to stay hidden. They perform first aid and create new plays. So while this isn’t necessarily a STEM book, you can tease out all these STEM concepts and introduce them in a really interesting and exciting way. Additionally, the extreme nature of the situation brings out the worst in some people, but it also reveals the best in others. This gives you the opportunity to address ethics, morality, sexism, classism, and a wide variety of social/emotional topics. The right book can entertain readers and open their eyes to entirely new worlds of thinking, reading, and learning.

Do you ever take the show “on the road,” so to speak?

The STEM Read team is fairly small, so we don’t always have the staff to do much traveling, but we’re always up for talking to groups that want to host events. We can support you through virtual coaching, professional development, and resource sharing. We also present at conferences like ISTE. This June at ISTE, we’ll host a session on using Quarantine: The Loners and other dystopian novels as an inspiration for digital storytelling. And, if the stars and schedules align, sometimes we can bring these experiences to different locations and work with local educators and experts and our favorite authors to host a full-on STEM Read experience! Never say never!

More posts by Lara Neel.

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