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Education

Should STEAM be the New STEM?

I know, I know. I just posted about STEM education not too long ago. Essentially, it combines various principles of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Subjects are presented together through learning activities that involve problem-solving in “real-world” scenarios.

The idea is to strengthen (mainly K-12) students’ foundation within these STEM subjects. By the time these kids are old enough to hold jobs, STEM-based careers are going to hold an increasingly large share of the market (the better-paying ones at least).

But did you know there’s a new letter on the scene? STEAM is like STEM but with the added element of Art.

Why Do We Need to Add Art?

Proponents say that adding Art to the foundation of STEM education will help ignite creativity and can only add to innovation. Not only will students have the base level technical knowledge that works between the STEM subjects, but they will learn to think outside the box from the get-go. STEAM projects are based in the STEM subjects but allow for artistic expression. Some think that utilizing art and design features will make STEAM more approachable as it involves more self-expression as opposed to solely technical knowledge.

Many proponents of STEAM curriculums think this is an obvious choice. Art uses a different part of the brain than logic so merging the two leads to more dynamic thinking. Not to mention, you may find many STEM professionals have art in their background. Lots of scientists and engineers play an instrument, paint, or have a keen sense of design. However, most of us were taught in a traditional system that separated these various subjects.

Personally, I think STEAM is a wonderful idea. As a scientist (who now utilizes a creative outlet), I’m excited to see what kind of experiences we can create for students. I find there is a great deal of beauty in STEM, particularly the life sciences (because they are the best, OBVIOUSLY no bias here). Our senses strongly connect with our memory and learning processes. If Art can only enhance the experience, why not give it a go?

Great! Is Everyone on Board?

Well, No.

There are some educators that advocate for keeping STEM education focused on the science and math foundation that most of us are now (relatively) familiar with. While students should be exposed to the arts, the focus should remain on STEM subjects, with an emphasis on problem solving and research. Some also point out that engineering already has an aspect of design built into it.

The idea is that once you add Art (STEAM), you’ll want to add Reading (STREAM) and then additional subjects. While this may create a well-rounded curriculum as a whole, it diverges from the original objective of STEM education. That is, to teach and advocate for learning science, technology, engineering, and math. Part of the original intention was to expose underrepresented groups (namely women and people of color) to STEM careers, giving them access to hands-on STEM activities and advocating for their continuation of higher-level academics (and eventually careers) in these fields.

The STEM v STEAM debate is still in its early stages. But can we all agree that this is at least progress in the right direction?

How do you feel about STEM or STEAM? Do you have any firsthand experience? Leave a comment below.

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