There are only 90 STEM public high schools across the U.S. And still, STEM education is often a talking point amongst parents, politicians and educators.
Chances are, you’re familiar with this educational buzzword. And maybe you’ve heard of its counterpart, STEAM. Each program has its merits, of course — but you want to make sure you select the right course for your child.
So, let’s discuss STEM vs STEAM so that you can better understand each curriculum before making any decisions about your child’s educational future.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Once upon a time, the United States stood at the forefront of all of these fields. But today’s high school students show a waning interest in these fields. For example, one survey found that 28 percent of freshmen come into high school with an interest in a STEM-focused track, but 57 percent lose interest by the time they graduate.
So, STEM education aims to foster an enduring passion in these fields. Not only does that keep the U.S. competitive with other STEM-centric countries, but it gives students the opportunity to embark on important, lasting careers. Computing, engineering, life sciences — these and other areas will only become more important as time goes on, and STEM engages them early on.
The aim of the program is to show how science and mathematics play into everyday life, and how often they rely on one another.
STEM-centric education can start as early as elementary school. Integrated learning — teaching around themes, rather than boxing off each subject into its own lesson — will help kids in the long run, too. They tend to become interested in STEM this way because of a genuine curiosity, rather than having it forced upon them as they grow up.
As students move onto middle school, though, their STEM training becomes more focused. They start to learn more about the sciences and how they can translate into jobs when kids become grown-ups. Some even begin to explore potential career paths for themselves.
If they don’t start that in middle school, STEM students will certainly begin pondering their futures by the time they reach high school. Educators at this level aim to bring together in-school and hands-on training for their students. So, they might take on a work placement or internship that ties into what they’re learning or want to do post-grad.
STEM learning benefits students of all ages. But it is designed to draw in underrepresented groups to these fields — girls and students of color, specifically. However, children of all backgrounds can thrive in this type of learning environment, especially if they show an interest in science and computing before they start their studies.
With that in mind, let’s talk about STEAM.
You can see some of the letters from STEM are still present — and that’s no coincidence. The STEAM program still focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But it also brings in the A, arts and humanities training.
STEAM brings children through all of the aforementioned STEM training, but they learn to solve their problems with more than just STEM methods. They also use the creative process and problem-based testing methods.
To some, STEAM provides the perfect balance of science and arts training. Children still focus heavily on the central scientific subjects of STEM. But they think outside of the box to creatively solve those problems. Once they grow up, they can put these skills to so many uses, just as they can with a purely scientific background.
In one example of a STEAM career, an artist and jewelry maker works with biomedical professionals to create wearable accessories that can administer insulin. STEAM graduates might go on to create video games, data art, and more.
Of course, your child may be far too young to be thinking about their future career. But if they appear to have a penchant for creative thinking, then STEAM might suit them. And they can start early in programs designed for elementary schoolers.
As you can already imagine, there’s no single answer to this question. No one can tell you if you should enroll your child in a purely STEM school, or if they would do better with STEAM-based academics.
Some say that there’s no need for distinguishment between STEM and STEAM. They contend that much of the scientific training comes with automatic arts education, too. Think about engineering — there’s certainly some beauty in manmade buildings and bridges.
But others say that there are still some areas in which STEM lacks. For example, the humanities teach children to be better communicators. Even if they choose to work in a scientific field, they will have to know how to communicate and present their ideas. They will certainly hone their communication skills throughout any iteration of K-12 education, but proponents say that STEAM gives them more opportunities to do so.
Ultimately, every child is different, and one course will likely suit your young learner. Select the path that will inspire and motivate them and best suit their skill set. There is where your child will thrive and chart the course to a bright future.
Now that you understand why you might choose STEM vs STEAM — or vice-versa — you need to find a program that integrates such concepts into its curriculum.
Here at Pear Tree Elementary, we educate with a project-based learning system, which challenges our students to think critically and inquisitively. They work together on projects that stoke their creativity and encourage ingenuity.
If you’d like to learn more, don’t hesitate to contact us.