STEAM powers computer lab upgrade at area schools

From designing a gym shoe and creating a marketing plan for it, writing and editing a video, designing a house, or engineering a wind turbine, students at Simmons Middle School in Oak Lawn now have opportunities to partner up for projects that will enrich their tech and design skills.

The school’s Smart Lab opened this month at Simmons Middle School, part of Ridgeland School District 122, giving all students at the school time to delve into science, technology, engineering, and math — a grouping of subjects now commonly known as STEM. Students have the opportunity to work on hands-on projects in mechanics, graphic design, renewable energy, circuitry, robotics, data analysis, and more.

“We knew our students would love it and we had to get our hands on it,” said Simmons Principal Tracy Flood. Flood and others visited several schools that already have something similar in place, including James Hart School in Homewood, where students presented and demonstrated projects they’d completed in the Smart Lab.

The lab contains all things STEM and all things STEAM — the “A” in STEAM stands for Arts, and encompasses digital media, web design, video editing and sound production. District 122 hired Creative Learning Systems to design and outfit the lab as well as to provide curriculum for the it. At Simmons students in all three grades will spend two quarters using the lab, one focusing more on the STEM side of learning, and the other on the digital media arts side.

The Smart Lab takes up a portion of the library, using space that was once a row of computers. A neighboring computer lab is being repurposed as a collaborative space where students will work on projects together, Flood said. The lab includes 3-D printers, video cameras, circuit panels, gears and levers, special effects and story-boarding software, Kinex construction materials and more.

Kelly Williams and Michael Abramczyk are the Smart Lab facilitators at Simmons. Abramczyk…

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