STEM v. STEAM - What’s the Difference?

Audience: Elementary and Middle School Students


You’ve probably taken math or science classes before. Or maybe you’ve worked with robots and computers. These are all STEM based classes and activities. While this abbreviation tends to be used in our local schools, some other schools and organizations prefer to use the abbreviation STEAM to describe similar programs. But what is the difference?


STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

STEAM stands for science, technology, art, engineering, and mathematics.


STEAM involves and acknowledges art as a necessary part of these science-based skills. The “art” in STEAM involves digital media, theater, drawing, music, history, language arts, and more to help students better understand the hard skills of STEM or to combine the hard and soft skills, for example, math and public speaking, together. Another example would be using drawing skills in the creation of mechanical blueprints.

Engineers using art to create blueprints shows the importance of learning art skills along with STEM. Image by @ThisisEngineering RAEng from Unsplash.

STEAM focuses on soft skills that will help students succeed in working collaboratively and creatively in the future. As companies increasingly value teamwork and leadership skills, individuals who are capable in both hard and soft skill areas will become highly valued workers. Creativity is also becoming more important in the workforce, and art is a key component in developing creative abilities and thinking.


STEAM allows students to not only focus on the basic scientific skills outlined in STEM, but also to explore other disciplines in the liberal arts such as history, language, and design. Bringing the focus to these areas of study gives students more opportunities to discover their true passion and pursue it in the future.


STEAM has also been around for a while. Leonardo da Vinci, for instance, was known as a “Renaissance Man” because he was well-rounded in all aspects of the sciences (the Renaissance was a period in history when people made huge advancements in arts and the sciences, so a person who was skilled in both became a very successful worker). An artist, engineer, scientist, theorist, and architect, da Vinci is a key model in illustrating how including art in the stereotypical STEM fields can lead to various benefits in helping workers and students with creativity, visualization, and collaboration. Without his creativity and artistic skill, he wouldn’t have created the world famous painting of the Mona Lisa and would not be able to sketch the detailed blueprints of his famous engineering designs (such as the helicopter).


The Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo da Vinci, showcases his talent for the arts. Photo by @Eric TERRADE from Unsplash.


Bibliography


Bronwen Wade-Leeuwen, Jessica Vovers, Melissa Silk. “Explainer: what’s the difference between STEM and STEAM?” The Conversation - 10 Jun. 2018, https://theconversation.com/explainer-whats-the-difference-between-stem-and-steam-95713


School of Education Online Programs. “STEM vs. STEAM: Why One Letter Matters” 12 May 2018, https://soeonline.american.edu/blog/stem-vs-steam


University of Central Florida, Engineering. “Comparing STEM vs. STEAM: Why the Arts Make a Difference” https://www.ucf.edu/online/engineering/news/comparing-stem-vs-steam-why-the-arts-make-a-difference/

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