I use the acronym STEM often on my site. I’ve also started using STEAM, almost interchangeably with STEM. I think it’s time to discuss these two acronyms in detail. I’m going to explain the what STEM and STEAM mean, the difference between them, and why they are important for all of us to understand.
STEM is an acronym used for the scientific-based fields of study: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEM is widely considered the base for jobs of the future in our every changing digital world, so there is a push to encourage more children to pursue these career fields. There are more job openings in STEM than skilled workers and we need more young people to pursue STEM educations. STEM fields are also under-represented by women and minorities.
STEAM is similar to STEM, but includes an A for the arts. The inclusion of “Arts” is in the broad sense of the word. It encompasses liberal arts, language arts, performing arts, fine arts, graphic arts, music, etc. Why add in arts, and what does it have to do with the other STEM fields?
Engineers design phones that are both easy to use and nice to look at. Coders design apps that need to be functional as well as visually pleasing. STEM professionals have to present their concepts and results to managers in attractive, readable, and clear presentations and papers. These skills require a combined use of the arts with STEM. So it’s crucial for children to have the arts included with their STEM education.
I got very scientific (insert sarcasm here) and asked my followers on Instagram if they preferred STEM or STEAM. In a vote of 7 for STEM and 14 for STEAM, STEAM won out by 2/3 of the vote! In addition, I received several Direct Messages from people saying they liked both acronyms, but used in different situations.
I have a strong background in both the sciences and the arts. I’m a chemical engineer. I have loved science and math my whole life because my parents taught me to love math and science from a young age. My dad is a podiatrist, my mom is his office manager (she has an MBA and was a math major and math teacher), my sister is a pathologist, and my brother is a teacher and IT professional, so everyone in my family has a STEM-based career.
With that being said, my family also loves the arts. My dad is a very talented carpenter. My mom is extremely creative and can sew, craft, paint, and more. I loved art from a young age. This led me to enter (and win) several local and national art contests in elementary school (my drawing was selected to be sold on a tie for Save the Children and I drew the winning design for my hometown’s Springfest T-shirts and posters). Seeing my art on clothing led me to want to be a fashion designer, later I wanted to be a makeup designer, and I eventually got a certificate in graphic design 6 years ago. I played trumpet for 7 years and I love listening to all types of music. I have always love to read and write, which is one of the reasons I started this blog.
Judging based on my personal experience being involved in both the sciences and arts, reading lots of research over the last week, and having debates with myself and others – I’ve come to the conclusion that both the STEM and STEAM acronyms have a place in our society.
STEM is referring to fields in which there is both a strong growing need for more educated professionals (there are currently more jobs than trained people to fill them), and these career fields are also underrepresented by minorities. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, “Women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 29% of the science and engineering workforce.” I believe STEM is the best and correct acronym to use when discussing these growing career fields which are underrepresented by women and minorities.
I prefer the use of STEAM for early education. The arts play a crucial role in STEM education. I strive for my STEM for Kids projects to always include some form of the arts as a way to help teach STEM concepts. After writing this post I have decided to change my STEM for Kids page to STEAM for Kids, so stay tuned for that update. 🙂
I believe that children who show a preference and natural ability towards the arts over the sciences would still benefit from a quality STEAM education, because this will give them better access to job opportunities in the STEM realm. We need artists, designers, writers, and more to make the graphics, logos, commercials, and beautiful user interfaces for all the STEM companies.
Most importantly, when we use STEAM over STEM for educating our kids, we are encouraging kids to think both analytically and creativity. Creativity and innovation are necessary parts of STEM jobs, and incorporating the arts will help encourage this.
During my research for this post, I came across this quote from Janelle Cox in her article STEM vs STEAM: What’s Better on TeachHub.com: “Today’s students need tomorrow’s skills, and if that means adding the arts to math and science so that they can have what it takes to live in this ever-changing world, then so be it. The students of today need to be able to solve the problems of tomorrow. STEM and STEAM educational programs can both help them do that. As long as students are motivated and engaged in what they are doing, they have a real chance to make a difference in this world.”
I couldn’t say it better myself: STEM/STEAM – poTato/potAto. As long as our kids are getting the essential skills needed to be qualified workers in the 21st century, then we should be behind the program.
I’m teaching my kids STEAM skills at home because I know it’s important for them to have a foundation in these concepts no matter what profession they choose. Maybe they’ll chose a STEM career, maybe they won’t. I just want them to be successful and happy in whatever they choose to do.
I read the following articles during my research for this post. These are great resources you want to read more about the STEM vs. STEAM debate:
- Edudemic – STEM vs. STEAM: Why The “A” Makes a Difference
- School of Education – STEM vs. STEAM: Why One Letter Matters
- Education Week – STEM vs. STEAM: Do the Arts Belong?
- Niche – STEM vs. STEAM vs. STREAM: What’s the Difference?
- TeachHub.com – STEM vs STEAM: What’s Better?
- National Girls Collaborative Project – Statistics: State of Girls and Women in STEM
- National Science Board – Science & Engineering Indicators 2016
- iD tech – The State of STEM Education Told Through 12 Stats
- Smithsonian Science Education Center – The STEM Imperative
- Pew Research Center – 7 Facts about the STEM Workforce
Where do you stand in the STEM vs. STEAM debate? Are you team STEM, team STEAM, both, or unsure? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!
I’m not a fan of STEAM (there’s a surprise 😉 ). It appears to have no value as an acronym, a focus on everything is synonymous with a focus on nothing.
I was fortunate to come from a strong technical background, my grandfather was an engineer, my father was a chemist and both my brothers and I are/were engineers. I grew up with a fascination for technology and no need for a STEM initiative. My mother was a music teacher in between raising 3 boys and we all inherited a love of making music.
I absolutely agree with you that the breadth of education for younger children is both necessary and desirable but a watering down of STEM initiatives at school and college level is not. In Universities the science and engineering courses continue to be less well subscribed (and frequently dominated by male students) and the high technology industries face staffing issues while we have increasingly well qualified shelf stackers and waitresses who follow the popular routes.
I am not trying to diminish the importance of the arts, there will always be a need for linguists, writers, musicians, artists, historians etc but, whilst a number of graduates in these subjects will follow careers that use them, opportunities are limited and the majority will have a well informed hobby at best.
The STEM initiative was designed to stimulate interest in technology, particularly for the under-represented sectors of the talent pool. Changing it to STEAM and defocussing seems to be a backward step.
I could go on (and on and on……and frequently do – don’t get me started on fashionable “degrees” like Media Studies)
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts John! Your argument is exactly why I struggled back and forth on whether I supported STEAM myself or not. I completely agree with you, and originally wrote this post as fully supporting STEM and not STEAM. But then I read and heard additional arguments about the importance of arts in all education, including STEM, and it did sway me back to my current position. I think involving the arts in STEM could open the creative mindset to help foster innovation in STEM. We desperately need solutions to many STEM problems, from curing Cancer to finding alternative energy resources. Maybe adding arts to the mix will help foster thinking to solve our every changing and growing STEM problems.
We use STREAM at the library for all of our science, math, and engineering explorations as the letter “R” stands for ‘reading’ which is integral for conducting experiments, etc.
I hadn’t heard STREAM used before but the addition of the R for reading makes sense! The library sounds like the perfect place to use STREAM instead of STEM or STEAM.