STEM vs STEAM: What’s the Difference?

STEAM vs STEM: What’s the Difference?

STEAM vs STEM: What’s the Difference?

Research by the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics shows that employment in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) has grown by 79% since 1990. This enormous increase has put great pressure on schools to prepare students for careers in these fields.

STEM subjects tend to value logic and lateral thinking highly. While these are certainly vital skills, they shouldn’t come at the expense of the creativity, imagination, and critical thinking promoted by artistic subjects. And since not all students are interested in STEM, we need to include music, reading, history, painting, and so on to ensure a well-rounded education.

That’s where STEAM – science, technology, engineering, art, and math – comes in.

Girl at desk assembling a bird feeder

What is STEM?

Before we talk about STEAM, it helps to have a good idea of the STEM subjects that are taught in schools. These include:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Math
  • Information and communications technology (ICT)
  • Computer science
  • Design and technology
  • Economics
  • Geography

STEM subjects form the basis of a wide range of careers, from scientist, engineer, and software developer to architect, animator, and technical writer.

boy adding wheels to his vehicle with the Exploring Vehicles Kit

What is STEAM?

STEAM takes STEM one step further by adding art subjects and tying them into STEM. This cross-disciplinary, hands-on learning encourages students to link their creative talents to technical skills, helping them to improve their learning in all areas. Music and languages, for example, can help students to better understand coding, while art composition and choreography could give them a broader perspective when building robotic systems.

What is the difference between STEM and STEAM?

Both STEM and STEAM are concerned with science, technology, engineering, and math. But while STEM looks at these topics from a technical perspective, STEAM explores them through creative processes. In other words, it’s about applying knowledge in innovative ways to produce collaborative solutions to real-world problems.

Imagine that a group of students was asked to figure out how many crops can be planted on one acre of farmland. Using STEM, they could find the optimal layout to grow the most food. But using STEAM, they could also design a device that helps the farmer plant those crops at correct intervals to maximize the use of space.

In this case, both STEM and STEAM are tackling the same problem. But while STEM helps you find the answer, STEAM helps you apply that answer to create a practical solution. In this way, STEAM moves past simple information gathering into inquiry and problem-solving.

By making learning a fun, hands-on experience, STEAM increases student engagement and shows how classroom learning is relevant and valuable in the outside world. It encourages a growth mindset that not only prepares students for the job market but also gives them confidence and resilience in everyday life.

Why is STEAM so important?

Even in 2023, the education system needs help to outgrow its archaic focus on memorization and standardized testing. Teaching kids how to pass exams might be good for their grades, but it doesn’t give them the complex breadth of skills they need to thrive in the modern world.

Approaching education through a STEAM lens brings imagination and innovation back into the curriculum. It makes learning an exciting and accessible experience that lets students approach subjects from an explorative, not prescriptive, standpoint.

This might make it sound as if STEAM is just for high-school students. But in reality, it’s also important for preschoolers and infants. By making learning a hands-on experience, STEAM nurtures the natural curiosity and creativity of young children. In doing so, it lays the foundation for independence, flexibility, and solution-focused thinking, which ensure that children grow into capable adults.

steam activities

How to introduce STEAM activities

One of the biggest benefits of STEAM activities is that they’re almost indistinguishable from play. That means children can engage with many different areas of learning in a safe, no-pressure environment that allows them to recognize their interests and strengths naturally.

At STEAMbright, we supply learners, parents, and schools with a wide range of STEAM activity kits for all ages and interests. Our Little Learners collection lets little learners experience music, coding, structures, and more, while our Stellar Scholars collection pushes older teens to experiment with more complex kites, catapults, trebuchets, and solar cars.

So when you’re ready to inspire passion for fun, hands-on learning at home or in school, head to our online store and pick out your favorite activities!