Written by Chicago International Charter School
17 April 2023

Check out this amazing feature done by one of our SMO partners, Distinctive Schools, highlighting CICS Prairie's amazing STEAM Lab!


Unleashing the Creative Genius: Exploring the Wonders of the STEAM Lab at CICS Prairie

As you enter CICS Prairie, there are a series of classrooms along a long, narrow hallway, and at first glance, you may not recognize the incredible exploration and development taking place every day. Our students are up to incredible, wondrous activities in –  one unique classroom truly bringing learning into the 21st century: the STEAM lab! STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, and in the CICS Prairie STEAM lab, instructor Mr. Victor Garbonkus considers himself a guide for his students, and they truly enjoy the experiences his class provides. The lab is hands-on and teamwork oriented, as students work together on project-based curriculum; building robots, learning to code, constructing bridges, flying drones and so much more!

This state-of-the-art classroom catches your eye immediately,  with a five-foot-tall ferris wheel constructed entirely of Connects pieces –  it incorporates a motor and actually moves on its own! The ferris wheel was constructed over 5 years by teams of students, as Mr. Garbonkus shared he provided guidance along the way, but the students built the wheel completely independently. 

“The ferris wheel was an accomplishment for me because I was one of the first ones to finish it, I was proud of the achievement,” shares 8th-grade student Gabrielle. 

EXPLORE THE WONDERS: Students are encouraged to explore their personal interests through different projects offered. When we visited their classroom last month, there was a wide variety of activities taking place at once. Students worked in groups, rotating through different projects over the course of the semester. One group of students built their own remote control, attached it to the computer, and used it to play a video game. Other students built and drove robotic cars, or worked with Connects pieces to build different structures. Out in the hallway, a group of students worked together to fly, direct and successfully land a drone precisely on a mark.

Mr. Garbonkus is proud of the way his students take ownership of their learning, and encourages students to see themselves as more than a participant in class – he inspires them to take their learning to the next level, and elevates the experience for each of his students, “Travis is my flight instructor, he was my first to succeed with figuring out how to fly the drone. He got the software, got the drone, and taught other students how to fly it. He communicated with his co-pilots so well that I wanted him to train other students to do the same. He’s an 8th grader, he's been doing this for years. He’s the guru of flying here at CICS Prairie!” 

BE CREATIVE: The classroom extends far beyond practical technical skills, as students learn to collaborate and communicate effectively with their peers. Through rotating groups and projects, students face different challenges to tackle together, encouraging creativity, communication, and out-of-the-box thinking.

“STEAM is not just building, it’s being around people in your community, working together to build up teamwork. That’s what STEAM is really about,” says 8th-grade student, Azaya.

Mr. Garbonkus explained what makes him feel most proud of his students, he said “ to see their experiences light them up, to see their eyes brighten, to see the excitement. To see them experience success in achieving their goal and then explaining their journey makes me extremely proud.” The next time you visit CICS Prairie, we invite you to take a moment to peek into the lab – you never know who you might see… a flight instructor? A robotics engineer perfecting their next invention? A product designer hard at work on their next dream? One thing is certain – you will see smiles, joyful collaboration, and students who believe in themselves and the power of their unlimited potential.

The CICS Prairie STEAM lab was generously sponsored through a partnership with Relativity. This grant was created to help youth gain access to the technology, equipment and training that they need to be successful in today's world. 


About Chicago International Charter School 

Chicago International Charter School is a vibrant network of diverse Chicago charter schools that enable students to thrive every day, put them on a path to success in college and life, and empower entrepreneurial educators to pursue excellence through innovation. CICS is serving more than 7,400 students at 13 campuses across Chicago. To learn more, visit  www.chicagointl.org.

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