STEM vs STEAM | What's the difference?

June 2, 2022

“Hey Alexa, what’s the difference between STEM and STEAM?”

It’s easy to confuse STEM vs STEAM. If you ask Alexa, she might have some trouble answering this question, which ironically supports the topic of this blog.

STEM refers to a curriculum centered around the integration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Studies show that STEM jobs grew 79% between 1990 and 2018(1). In 2019, 19.1 million workers age 25 and older were employed in STEM occupations in the U.S., an increase of 1.8 million since 2016 (2). And as stated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019–29 employment projections show that occupations in the STEM field are expected to grow 8% by 2029 (3).

While STEM curriculum encourages students to explore hard evidence-based explanations of real-world phenomena, it falls short in the same area as Alexa; the human emotional element. That’s where STEAM comes in.

STEAM takes all the pieces of STEM curriculum and adds in arts, such as design, dance, drama, writing, history, visual arts and more. By incorporating the study of arts and humanities, STEAM curriculum helps kids solve problems in more innovative, creative and out-of-the-box ways. In other words, STEAM encourages collaboration and utilization of soft skills to understand a STEM concept.

When it comes to STEM vs STEAM, STEAM is not a new methodology. Leonardo da Vinci utilized concepts of art, science, aesthetics and engineering throughout his life and career as a painter, engineer, scientist, theorist, sculptor and architect. He said, “To develop a complete mind, study the science of art, study the art of science. Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” Additionally, interdisciplinary scientists are more likely to become Nobel Laureates than those who are solely STEM focused (4).

Teaching STEAM focused curriculum to kids early on helps them connect both the left and right sides of their brain, pushing past the antiquated perception that learning areas are separate and that someone who is good at math can’t also excel in art. Furthermore, STEAM also integrates soft skills like care, community, collaboration and culture.

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