STEM or STEAM: What's the Difference?

Posted by Tahlea Jankoski on July 08, 2016




STEM curriculum has received a lot of attention in recent years, as learning scientific innovation is considered the key to success in the future job market. Currently, many industries are in need of science-based professionals and the number of jobs in technology and engineering is expected to grow in the future. 

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, but there is an element that some educators would like to add to this innovative curriculum—Art/Design. They feel that by adding art and design as a necessary component of the STEM curriculum, the educational approach would gain an even greater focus on creativity.

Is there really a difference between STEM and STEAM?

Understanding STEM

The future economy largely depends on the growing sector of jobs in science and technology. For this reason, educators feel that it's imperative to help prepare future professionals for this expected economic environment. Thus, instead of teaching the four disciplines separately, STEM curriculum integrates these important subjects so that students can understand their correlation and gain applicable real-world skills. This concept is also known as blended learning. With blended learning, students are able to problem solve and see how scientific studies are applied to everyday life. Starting in elementary school, STEM learning focuses on inquiry-based education that becomes more rigorous as students progress. Students also learn through technology, often using computer labs or a personal device for hands-on exploration. 


While STEM does combine interdisciplinary studies, there is arguably an element that has been missing from this integrated learning. Innovation requires creativity, so STEAM advocates the belief that art and design are foundationally important elements of STEM. Whether by basic visual representation or through sophisticated technology, students can create and build their own projects and designs. From robots to learning how cities can be built from the ground up, these examples of coursework require an element of art and design. Thus, instead of STEM, "Art" is being added to create a new acronym known as STEAM. 

STEM & STEAM - Building Integrated Learning

Both STEM and STEAM focus on revolutionizing traditional learning to create a paradigm shift in classroom learning. Students can test ideas and learn about a variety of opinions on subjects to gather their own understanding. Integrated learning focuses less on the results of standardized test scores and more on real-world application, helping to prepare students for advanced learning and their future professions. 

Both disciplines are influencing the way these subjects are taught today, advocating for hands-on learning and exploration, collaboration, critical thinking, and real-world problem solving. Whether STEM or STEAM is used to teach the principles of science and mathematics, both help students discover greater application of those principles and prepare them for the future. 


Hands On STEM activities