With all the discussion about the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in education these days, there is a debate raging about the importance of STEAM (STEM studies plus arts). But what is the difference, aside from one letter? In this post, we’ll explain how your child can benefit from STEM education combined with creative, out-of-the-box thinking fostered through the arts.

The STEM versus STEAM Debate

For more than twenty years, educators and researchers have stressed the importance of STEM education, to ensure the children of today can become the economists, biologists, and engineers of the future.

Research shows that a focus on and investment in STEM education gave the United States a slight early advantage globally in science and innovation as of 20181. But newer data in a 2022 report indicate that a slip during the COVID-19 pandemic calls for even more investment in these disciplines so that children are prepared to fulfill science and engineering (S&E) roles of the future. “Performance of U.S. K–12 students in STEM has been stagnant,” the report notes, and “building the STEM labor force through strengthening U.S. STEM education at the K–12 level will increase S&E capacity.”2 Children who excel in STEM today will play a vital role in fulfilling the world’s need for innovators of the future, from staving off new global pandemics to solving climate change.

Undoubtedly, STEM education is important. But proponents of STEAM education argue that integrating the arts, including design, history, and writing—and a well-rounded education generally—is essential to developing the soft skills children need to excel. While artificial intelligence has advanced to become more human-like and AI and automation are projected to play increasingly larger roles in the workplaces of the future, skills like teamwork, creativity, and collaboration will be more important than ever for children to develop in order to guide these technologies. And beyond simply studying and teaching skills that help students compete, some educators and researchers advocate for STEAM as a way to help ground STEM in ethics and empathy. 3

Boosting STEM with STEAM

While it’s a weighty debate, in a practical sense, combining science with the arts can help kids engage all their senses and enrich their understanding of scientific concepts. In fact, just about any STEM assignment can easily become a STEAM project with the addition of art and creative thinking. But what might that look like?

In a simple STEM assignment about weather on a cloudy day, kids might be asked to measure the temperature or other conditions outside using simple instruments and write them down. Then, they might be shown photos and hear or read descriptions of different types of cloud formations, and be asked to identify which they see outside.

To add the creative element that turns STEM to STEAM, kids may be asked to draw what they see, or draw pictures of each type of cloud formation they learned about. Taking it a step further, they could be asked to think about what types of activities might be affected by the weather outside. For example, if it’s raining, playing outside may not be fun, but flowers and plants benefit from the rain to flourish. Kids could draw a picture of or tell a story about how weather affects the world they live in and the activities they like to do.

At STEMful, we believe children can benefit from adding concepts of creativity and collaboration to STEM projects, fostering the soft skills they need to become not only brilliant scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, but innovative humans and invaluable global citizens. Enroll your child in our STEAM-focused toddler classes, or one of our summer camps, school break camps, or afterschool programs, to sprout kids’ curiosity and foster a lifelong love of learning.

  1. “Overview of the State of the U.S. S&E Enterprise in a Global Context,” in Science & Engineering Indicators 2018, National Science Foundation, https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2018/nsb20181/report/sections/overview/introduction.
  2. Conclusion in The State of U.S. Science and Engineering 2022, National Science Foundation, https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsb20221/conclusion.
  3. Richard Lachman, “STEAM not STEM: Why Scientists Need Arts Training,” The Conversation, January 17, 2018, https://theconversation.com/steam-not-stem-why-scientists-need-arts-training-89788.