STEM and STEAM: What’s the difference?

STEM and STEAM: What’s the difference?

The National Science Teachers Associates defines STEM education as an “interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise.” Many schools focus on it today as experts agree it helps prepare young people to become innovators, leaders, educators, and researchers, solving the challenges our world faces and will face in the future.


Recently, a new letter has joined the STEM equation: “A” for the arts. Educational organizations define STEAM education as “science and technology, interpreted through engineering and the arts, all based in mathematical elements.” STEAM proponents propose that STEM alone misses key components necessary for students to be prepared for the future. By including the arts, students think creatively, solve problems, have better communication skills, and embrace collaboration.

Much debate has occurred in recent years over the concept of STEM versus STEAM. Some argue that the arts should be kept separate from math and science to not take focus away from them. Others state that STEAM does not take away from the sciences but rather completes it by filling in the gaps. They also claim it provides students with the necessary skills and tools to incorporate the arts into the core subjects. The arts are a piece of the puzzle that will help children succeed and learn the skills necessary to thrive in a rapidly changing world. STEAM proponents agree that science, technology, engineering, and math need to be at the core of education. They then argue that, without the arts, students miss out on a well-rounded education and lack skills to become innovators.

A Perfect Example

A perfect example of how the arts and sciences intertwine and complement each other is early photographer Charles Negre. He painted for many years before he saw daguerreotypes, or early photographs. They astonished him. He began to study the science behind photography—the chemistry, physics, mathematics, and engineering of cameras and photographs.

“Where science ends, art begins… When the chemist has prepared the sheet, the artist directs the lens and the three torches of observation, feeling and reasoning guide the study of nature; photography invokes effects that make us dream, simple patterns excite us, powerful and bold silhouettes that surprise and frighten us… We are now convinced that it is less difficult to reproduce than it is to learn to see nature… Before, the challenge was to replicate nature; today it is to choose from within nature.”

STEM, widely accepted and integrated in schools across the nation, helps students every day to prepare for the future. As STEAM grows in popularity, students are now learning about these core subjects in a way that will help them communicate, adapt, solve problems, and compete in the global market.

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