What is the difference between STEM and STEAM?

What are STEM and STEAM, and what is the difference between them? You may have heard of the terms before, or perhaps they are new to you. STEM is not new, but it has been gaining a good deal of attention in the last few years, with educators searching for more meaningful and effective ways to improve student engagement.

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What is STEM?

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, but it represents an education that reaches far further than those subjects alone. STEM is an educational philosophy that holistically embraces subjects and teaching skills in a way that mirrors real life.

What is STEAM?

The addition of the letter ‘A’ is to represent the area of Arts into education, to incorporate creative thinking into real-life situations. Art isn’t only for creating artwork, it’s about creating and discovering innovative ways of presenting information, integrating principles and solving problems. Think of an architect, for example - they use not only engineering but math, science, technology and art to create awe-inspiring structures and buildings.

Some people argue that adding the ‘A’ is unnecessary, as the application of artistic creativity is a natural consequence of STEM, but others feel it is worthy of being highlighted. Elementary school children, for example, can benefit from being reminded of the importance of incorporating artistic thinking into their learning and problem-solving.

Whether you personally prefer the term STEM or STEAM, their underlying practices and principles are essentially the same - to integrate the all-important pillars of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.

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Why is STEM and STEAM Education important?

The primary objective of STEM and STEAM is integration. Instead of teaching independent subject disciplines separately, STEM/STEAM lessons are project and inquiry-based, well-rounded, and with a strong focus on interdisciplinary learning.

They align powerfully with the way in which we problem solve and work in our daily lives, making it a unique way of learning and instructing. With STEM/STEAM education, we are teaching skills in the same way that they will be utilised in the real world, both professionally and personally.

Rarely does a vocation require only one educational skill set. As with the example of an architect, the subjects are combined in seamless and practical ways to allow them to create complex designs.

STEM and STEAM education is not a new concept, it is simply a way of comprehending and applying integrated forms of learning that are directly applicable to real life. Instead of teaching science as a separate subject to math, for example, combining the two demonstrates how the knowledge from both fields support and complement each other.

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How does STEM/STEAM improve student learning?

As we’ve discussed, real-world jobs are interdisciplinary. Students need to be educated as to how subjects can be integrated, working together towards the final outcome. We need to cultivate in them a passion for growth, curiosity and exploration, as well as the development of a diverse set of skills. They need no more memorisation of random facts. These days, we have an endless supply of facts at our fingertips. Mid-debate, all we need do is pull out our phones and we can access all the answers in seconds.

Education no longer centres around fact memorisation. Instead, it focuses on teaching students how to evaluate information and think critically - how to apply research, knowledge and skills to solve problems and innovate. These skills need to be taught in a tangible, applied way, as part of a holistic approach to learning, as opposed to the traditional methods of separating subjects.

STEM/STEAM truly embraces the key areas of 21st Century education, as identified by the four C’s - Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration and Communication. Most importantly, this educational foundation incorporates a highly adaptable framework and inquiry-based principles to cater to students of varying needs, thus fostering a genuine love of learning.

What are some of the problems associated with STEM Education?

The biggest challenge facing STEM/STEAM education is the current lack of resources. Teachers are struggling with a lack of funding towards the newest technologies, as well as training in how to use it and knowing how to effectively use it as a tool for learning.

Another source of struggle for teachers is working with the current system that focuses heavily on grades and assessments as opposed to a program that prioritises the fostering of creativity, innovation, problem-solving and critical thinking skills. These areas and achievements are not something that can easily be assessed and boxed up together.

The development of lesson plans for STEM/STEAM can be challenging at first, but with the right resources and some practise, teachers soon get used to the new approach. Many teachers feel overwhelmed when it comes to learning how to teach STEM/STEAM and prefer to stick with the traditional approach of keeping subjects separated. Broadening the understanding of STEM may be helpful in increasing the likelihood of more teachers adopting it as their preferred approach and would help it to gain further momentum.

How can you get your students interested in STEM?

STEM is exceptional in the way that it aligns with how adolescent’s minds work and learn. The most effective way to encourage a young adult towards a love of STEM/STEAM is to foster an abundant curiosity in them. The experts at Play Skills Toys encourage younger children to question, play and explore: “Help them to find and chase their passions, even if they are constantly evolving or changing - this is perfectly normal, especially when they are younger.”

All the way through their schooling journey, STEM/STEAM education will support children and young adults in becoming innovative, critical thinking adults, who possess exceptional problem-solving skills. Skilful adults that future generations need to help navigate our increasingly complex and technology-driven world.

How MusicEDU helps foster learning and creativity in young adults

Here at MusicEDU, we recognise the benefits of combining modern learning with traditional techniques. We have merged technology and music together to create a Suite of five programs to create a learning experience like no other - beneficial for both students and teachers, as well as being great fun! From our latest program AR Classroom to Studio Sessions, Keyboard Evolution, TrackFormers and Game Composer, there’s something for everyone!