Edited by Pat Bitton

December 8, 2020

STEM vs. STEAM: What’s the Difference

The main purpose of school is to prepare students for college and the future workplace. Some educators focus on teaching STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Others tend to add arts to the list, which makes a different acronym – STEAM.

In this article, we’ll talk about the definition of STEAM vs. STEM, their differences, pros, and cons.

STEAM vs. STEM: Why One Letter Matters

What Does STEM Stand For

STEM is an educational approach that integrates science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Elements of these subjects are incorporated into learning projects instead of being taught separately. STEM gives students an opportunity to develop the necessary skills for successful learning and future careers. STEM education helps prepare students for the changing world.

STEM develops skills like critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, communication, and teamwork. This approach teaches students to do research and apply their knowledge rather than just memorizing the facts.

Definition of STEAM

STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. Arts include dance, music, drama, language arts, design, and humanities. STEAM helps students study creatively. It uses problem-based learning methods so that students can study projects based on real-life examples. STEAM brings creativity into math and science by applying the concepts of art in cross-disciplinary learning.

Instead of focusing on separate subjects, project-based teaching improves creativity, collaboration, design thinking, and problem-solving skills. It helps students to succeed in STEM subjects even if learners don’t seem gifted in technical areas.

STEAM focuses on developing skills like communication and creativity. These skills are crucial for students’ future lives and careers as they help create a new multifaceted way of thinking.

STEAM is often called an abbreviation, though it’s an acronym. The abbreviation is a shortened form of a word, while acronyms are made of the initial letters of separate words.

STEM vs. STEAM Debate

Proponents of STEM argue that STEM naturally involves art and other humanities as a part of engineering challenges. They say that adding extra subjects to STEM lessons can influence the understanding of science and math in a bad way and distract students from major disciplines.

STEAM proponents claim that the importance of arts is underestimated. The arts open more opportunities for different types of learners and give them more chances to succeed in learning. Art activities also teach students to communicate, which is extremely important in our technically-focused world. STEAM aims at developing imagination and helping students to be innovative and creative through STEM projects.

Educators shouldn’t teach art as a separate subject but explain how to apply art to real-world situations. Students need to learn how to make their own decisions and solve problems that impact their lives.

STEAM develops design and engineering skills to make students learn to innovate and succeed in their STEM subjects. STEAM teaches how to build connections between different topics, which is essential in the interdisciplinary world.

STEAM is human-centered, meaning that it puts the personality of students first. While working with real-life issues, STEAM shows why STEM subjects should matter to everyone and how arts can work in STEM.

What Is a STEM School

STEM school mostly focuses on integration. All lessons are well-rounded and inquiry-based. Learners will be able to use the acquired knowledge and skills for their work.

Why Adding Arts to STEM

Adding the arts to STEM means applying creative thinking to real-life issues. Art is supposed to help find innovative ways of problem solving. It’s not only about building future careers but also about being curious, independent, and passionate about exploration. Teaching students across different disciplines allows them to succeed in almost every field that they choose in life. STEAM subjects cover a variety of topics that help students identify their true interests.

Education is no longer about memorizing facts in the coursebooks. It’s more about applying the knowledge to real-life situations and showing students how subjects can integrate.

Benefits of STEM and STEAM

  • Teamwork
  • During the STEM or STEAM lessons, students regularly cooperate. They have discussions, write reports, find solutions, and do research. Learners at different ability levels can work in one team. Teamwork prepares students to solve problems together and to communicate to come up with better solutions.

    While sharing ideas with a team, students learn how to listen, prioritize, compromise, and make suggestions. Learners find out their strengths and weaknesses and help each other.

  • Creativity
  • Students learn how to find solutions creatively. Arts add a creative element to subjects like math or science. Creativity makes it possible to innovate while performing ordinary tasks.

  • Development of critical thinking
  • STEM improves critical thinking as students are not passive participants of the lesson, but they study and do research actively. Students learn how to build connections between facts and think clearly and rationally.

  • Problem solving
  • During STEM and STEAM activities, students learn how to solve problems from different perspectives and think out of the box.

  • Preparing students for future careers
  • Project-based learning opens the opportunity for students to study the subjects through real-world situations. This hands-on learning gets students ready for the issues that may occur in their future workplace. Working in teams and finding ways to compromise and express an opinion are also advantageous for STEM and STEAM.

  • Understanding the arts
  • Adding the arts to STEM helps students to understand how to integrate arts with technology and shows its importance.

Cons of STEM and STEAM

  • The lack of curriculum
  • Every school has its curriculum for STEM programs. That’s why there’re no clear standards and guidelines for teaching STEM subjects.

  • The difficulty of finding educators
  • STEM and STEAM teachers are supposed to be professionals in different interdisciplinary areas. That's why schools face difficulties finding qualified teachers. There’s also a lack of understanding of what qualifications a teacher should have to be prepared for STEM teaching.

  • Late start
  • STEM education is introduced in middle school. Experts argue that it’s too late to make an impact. They believe that STEM should start in elementary school so that students become curious and passionate about studying from an early age.

How to Make STEM Interesting for Students

The crucial thing to make learners like STEM is to make them curious. Students should be taught to explore, question, and play. Teachers should find the topics that interest learners the most. When students are engaged and passionate to explore, they’ll be more willing to learn.

Frequently Asked Questions

STREAM acronym adds reading and writing to the STEM program. Educators say that adding reading and writing makes the curriculum more well-rounded. Reading develops creativity and critical thinking and helps students prepare for future careers.

STEM integrates science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM makes students interested in learning and forces cross-disciplinary learning that is crucial for college and the workplace.

 

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