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STEM vs STEAM: What’s Better?

Janelle Cox

Science, technology, engineering, and math, otherwise known as STEM, has become a major focal point in today’s schools. However, individuals are now proposing that art be added into the mix to make STEAM, which would be STEM + Art = STEAM. The goal of this would be to take science, math, and technology and add an art component to it. This has led to quite some controversy and debate. Here we will take a brief look at the two, to see how they both measure up.

STEM

Let’s first take a look at where STEM education originated. It came from the growing concern that today’s employees had a lack of skills and talent that was needed in order to succeed in the 21st century economy.

So individuals in the public and the private sector decided that our education system needed to change, or should I say adapt what they were focusing on. Students need more math and science and need to be able to take that knowledge and apply it solve challenging problems, as well as be able to be successful in the workforce once they graduate from high school. Research shows that students who study STEM gain a variety of skills such as critical thinking, communication and innovation, as well as collaboration to name a few. Studies show that a quality STEM education program is engaging, motivating, student-centered, innovative, collaborative, and applies real-world applications. Education Weekly said it best when they said that it uses the knowledge of math and science in order to create technologies and solutions to real-world problems using an engineering approach.

STEAM

STEAM.edu defines STEAM education as Science and Technology, interpreted through Engineering and the Arts, all based in Mathematical elements. This idea of adding the arts to STEM has recently gained a lot of momentum. The “A” in STEAM doesn’t just represent the arts, but is more of a broad term that represents liberal arts, language arts, social studies, physical arts, and fine arts and music. It’s basically a framework for teaching which is customizable and functional, hence the “fun” in functional. It’s not about spending less time on STEM subjects and more time on art, it’s about applying creative thinking to STEM projects, and sparking students’ imagination and creativity through the arts. It’s about exploring where art naturally fits into the STEM subjects. You can add some STEAM into STEM by applying design and computer graphics to projects, or using the performing arts to communicate a STEM project. Students can utilize their artistic talents to generate innovative thinking.

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The Great Debate

STEM vs STEAM has been quite a debate over the past few months. STEM supporters argue that there should be a separation between the arts and the sciences to prevent anything from taking away from the core focus of science, technology, engineering, and math. This perspective is partly fueled by the fear of the United States lacking the essential skills needed in order to be on par with the rest of the developing nations. STEAM supporters argue that it’s not about spending less time on the core subjects and more time on the arts, but rather incorporating the arts into the core STEM subjects and filling in the gaps.

There isn’t a clear picture of what STEAM education actually looks like -- it’s just too new right now. But children need a well-rounded education and adding the arts to essential 21st century skills will give them that opportunity.  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.

Do you think the Arts belong in STEM education? Please share how you feel about this great debate in the comment section below, we would love to hear what you have to say.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.