Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is a pretty familiar concept to most teachers and parents. You’ve probably heard about STEM education from the time your child was old enough to toddle around to preschool. Nowadays, there is more than one acronym to contend with when it comes to curriculum. Some schools are leaning away from STEM and into STEAM, thus opening up a whole pandora’s box of questions that need to be answered. If you’re feeling a bit of confusion as to the difference between STEM and STEAM, know that you’re certainly not alone. While these two concepts may seem like one-and-the-same, there are some key differences. It all has to do with that one additional letter, “A.”
STEM vs. STEAM: What’s the Difference?
Before we can break down the differences between STEM vs. STEAM, let’s take a look at the core concept of STEM.
What is STEM?
As mentioned above, STEM is a curriculum that focuses on science, technology, engineering, and math. It’s a comprehensive approach to learning. Rather than teaching one subject separately, teachers incorporate a variety of STEM elements into each lesson. For example, a bridge-building project would touch on each area of the curriculum rather than just teaching a child a few mathematic formulas. Think of STEM education as an entire philosophy of education focused on teaching skills and subjects in a way that best resembles real-life.
What is STEAM?
To most of us, STEAM is STEM with an extra letter. With that said, there is more to STEAM than only an additional “A” sandwiched in between. STEAM represents all of the core concepts of STEM with the addition of the arts. The arts include humanities, language arts, music, visual arts, dance, drama, and media. The goal of STEAM is to take STEM concepts and incorporate more creative thinking and arts into real situations.
STEAM curriculum teaches that art isn’t just about painting a picture or sitting in a studio. It is about creating new pathways to problem-solving and presenting new information. Think of it in terms of an architect. An architect will use all of the concepts of STEM, but they also rely on the arts to create beautiful buildings and structures. This is a perfect marriage of several key concepts. STEAM can bolster STEM principles while still offering students access to the arts, which are often equally as important as their more rigid contemporaries.
Which is More Important: STEM or STEAM?
STEM and STEAM are equally important. After all, you can’t have STEAM without STEM. With that said, some educators believe that STEAM offers up a more well-rounded educational experience. As much as students need real-world practical concepts, they also need a curriculum that involves the arts and humanities. Still, both STEM and STEAM provide students with the chance to learn creativity, using modern skills and fostering 21st-century applications for those skills.
Overall, you don’t have to worry much if your child’s school offers a STEAM program rather than a regular old STEM program. In our experience, they’re getting the same level of education and still learning those core skills needed for a STEM-related career in the future. As noted above, STEAM incorporates artistic concepts and humanities, whereas regular STEM focuses more on the core four subjects laid out in the name itself.
Understanding all of the major differences between STEM and STEAM can be daunting, but remember, it all comes down to that letter “A” sandwiched in between. STEAM adds an extra dose of the arts into a traditional STEM curriculum, whereas STEM offers up those four core concepts that build a bridge to the future.