STEM vs STEAM: Should The Arts Be Included in Education?

Introduction

There has been an increased interest in the so-called “STEM” curriculum in recent years, and science-based jobs have become the new, most popular career choices. However, some have debated whether the arts should be included in STEM education and have argued in favor of a STEAM education. This article will debate whether one letter really has much of a difference on students’ curriculum.

What is STEM?

To give a brief background, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. Originally, it was developed by Dr. Judith Ramaley for the National Science Foundation (NSF) mainly to raise the math and science scores of American students in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). According to a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) survey from 2015, US performance was ranked 40th and 25th in math and science, respectively. As a result, many schools from a multitude of countries have adopted a STEM curriculum. Based on an article from Niche, the aim is to “broaden STEM literacy and participation, particularly among young women and people of color, as well as to strengthen the STEM workforce by increasing the number of students who pursue a career in a related field.” Increasing interest in STEM allows students to learn and apply scientific and mathematical ideas to real-world problems.

What is STEAM?

STEAM represents science, technology, engineering, art, and math. In other words, it involves adding artistic expression and design to curriculum. The STEAM curriculum encourages students to think outside the box and use their own approach when solving problems.

Other Forms of Education

The STREAM curriculum, although not as popular as the other two types, has gained footing in today’s education. It advocates the inclusion of reading and writing into education and focuses on literacy and creative writing, rather than just critical thinking.

The STEM-STEAM Debate

There has been heavy debate over whether STEM or STEAM should be used as the standard curriculum. Proponents of STEM education claim that focus on science and math allow students to have exposure to real-life scenarios and increases their awareness of current world issues, which will allow students to develop valuable skills for the future. They also argue that STEM provides a critical-thinking and problem-solving approach, which the STEAM curriculum doesn’t necessarily offer. Instead, STEM supporters believe the STEAM curriculum will dilute the main focus on science, math, and engineering by also placing emphasis on the arts. According to Mark Kantrowitz from the Center for Excellence in Education (CEE), “while it is beneficial for STEM students to have exposure to the arts and to know how to communicate, the people pushing STEAM and STREAM are usually external to the STEM community. Their goal is not to promote STEM education, but to increase focus on the arts and reading.” He also claims that actually “the US does not do enough to promote and improve STEM education.” Lloyd M. Bentsen IV from the National Center for Policy Analysis seems to share the same viewpoint. According to an article from Slate, he says that “STEM already suffers from a major problem with student engagement, and the focus on changing STEM to STEAM would distract from the issue.” Additionally, STEM advocates claim that STEM still provides students with an opportunity to advance their creative thinking skills. In fact, science and engineering require aspects from the arts. For example, graphic design for engineering projects requires some background in visual arts. Communication and teamwork apply to language arts just as much as they apply to science.

On the opposite hand, supporters of STEAM claim that including the arts provides students with more opportunities to make connections and think outside of the box. As stated by an article from Forbes, “when the arts are part of STEM, STEM can come to life and spark connections for many students to engage creatively, critically, and confidently in their learning.” In other words, they claim that STEAM allows students to think creatively, not just critically. This point is further explained by the professor Vivek Wadhwa. According to the Washington Post, she claims that while “an engineering degree is very valuable … the sense of empathy that comes from music, arts, literature, and psychology provides a big advantage in design. … A psychologist is more likely to know how to motivate people and to understand what users want than is an engineer who has worked only in the technology trenches.” Furthermore, art proponents argue that while engineering includes the use of art, STEM misinterprets the purpose of art. The arts are not just used to find ways to solve engineering problems or include creativity in STEM; instead they provide freedom of expression. They serve as ways from people to communicate their feelings, ideas, and imagination.

Solutions to the STEM-STEAM Debate: The Ideal STEAM Program

While both sides have strong points as to why their corresponding curriculum is better for students, it is very important for students to be well-rounded and have exposure to both STEM and the arts. There is no doubt that both subjects are crucial to the education of students. So the question arises: how would one create a program that combines both STEM and STEAM without detracting from the original purpose of both programs? What would the ideal STEAM program look like, and how would it appease both sides? One way is to implement design into the curriculum. Graphic design and architecture can serve as a bridge between STEM and STEAM since such subjects require both mathematical or scientific knowledge, such as the concepts of scaling and measurements, as well as artistic expression. Secondly, performing arts can be used to mesh both types of curriculum together. For example, drama includes not just acting and speaking but also many other aspects such as lighting, custom design, set design, sound effects, etc. It is important to recognize that technology is also a crucial part of drama. And, of course, set and costume design would also require students to implement both creative finesse and mathematical concepts. According to an article from Education Week, creative planning can also be used to ensure students use the arts to brainstorm solutions for scientific and engineering problems.

Conclusion

Perhaps the debate over whether STEM or STEAM should be the standard curriculum is misdirected. Instead the question to be asked should be: what is the best way to combine both the science and humanities? Students should be encouraged to learn whatever they are interested in, whether their passion lies in science or the arts. This is best explained by Dr. Howard Gardner who claims that “what is important is that every human being deserves to learn about the arts and the humanities, just as each person should be cognizant of the sciences.”

Works Cited

Edpuzzle Staff. “STEM vs. STEAM: The Big Difference One Little Letter Makes.” Edpuzzle Blog, blog.edpuzzle.com/teaching-today/stem-vs-steam-differences/.

Feldman, Anna. “Why We Need to Put the Arts Into STEM Education.” Slate Magazine, Slate, 16 June 2015, slate.com/technology/2015/06/steam-vs-stem-why-we-need-to-put-the-arts-into-stem-education.html.

Jolly, Anne. STEM vs. STEAM: Do the Arts Belong? (Opinion). 30 Nov. 2020, www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2014/11/18/ctq-jolly-stem-vs-steam.html.

Milgrom-Elcott, Talia. “When STEM Becomes STEAM, We Can Change The Game.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 7 Nov. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/taliamilgromelcott/2019/11/07/when-stem-becomes-steam-we-can-change-the-game/?sh=4fa8f0ad6905.

“Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a Part of the U.S. Department of Education, nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/pisa2015/index.asp.

“STEM vs. STEAM: Why One Letter Matters.” American University, soeonline.american.edu/blog/stem-vs-steam.

Wadhwa, Vivek. “Why Liberal Arts and the Humanities Are as Important as Engineering.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 17 Apr. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2018/06/12/why-liberal-arts-and-the-humanities-are-as-important-as-engineering/?noredirect=on.

Isabelle Li is currently a freshman at The King’s Academy in Sunnyvale, California. As an avid reader and published poet, her specialty lies mainly in creative writing. She joined EPIC to further develop her writing skills and learn more about education in today’s world.

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