STEAM vs STEM Learning and Why the Distinction Matters

by Matter & Form on July 3, 2019

STEM is a learning methodology that focuses on the development of four major educational pillars: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. By integrating these separate subjects into one classroom, students can better see how they fit together. In a world where technology and innovation have become foundational to both everyday life and career development, STEM is a way to prepare students for success.

While STEM provides essential learning techniques for the future, STEAM learning takes these techniques even further by incorporating another crucial learning pillar. Read on to learn about STEAM vs STEM learning and how the two both differ and inform each other.

What is STEAM Learning?

STEAM learning aims to incorporate the arts into the STEM curriculum. This can include anything from the study of the humanities, drama and dance, to the study of new media, visual arts and graphic design. STEAM learning is especially important for younger students, as art and creativity should remain a priority as they move into more rigorous math and science-based classes. Just like the various topics that fall under STEM’s umbrella, these arts-oriented topics should be taught with modern technological innovations and realities in mind.

STEAM acknowledges the growing connection between science, technology, math and the arts. In the same way that science and technology are creating new opportunities for artistic expression, creative thinkers that intuitively grasp things like aesthetics, form and emotional expression are influencing how applications of science and technology are both conveyed to, and designed for, the public. STEAM education aims to nurture and develop this cooperative link between the arts and the other learning pillars that make up a STEM curriculum.

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Is STEAM Better Than STEM?

Rather than trying to weigh the value of one against the other, it’s essential for educators to understand that STEM and STEAM are fundamentally linked. They utilize the same learning concepts and ultimately serve the same purpose: to create a practical, integrated, hands-on curriculum that will allow students to thrive in their future careers or educational pursuits. As such, it’s misleading to suggest that one is better or more valuable than the other. In fact, it’s STEM’s focus on interdisciplinary learning that inspired STEAM learning in the first place.

STEAM’s growing prominence is proof that integrated, real-world learning is able to connect everything from playwriting and music production to biology and sports science. Instead of being judged against each other, STEAM is a logical next step in STEM’s successful implementation into curriculums everywhere.

STEAM vs. STEM Learning Styles

The only difference between these two educational methods lies in STEAM’s move towards explicitly embracing the arts. Despite STEM’s integration of different learning pillars into one classroom, it’s primary focus is still scientific inquiry, technological innovation and mathematical concepts.

STEAM learning still puts a heavy focus on these subjects, but it does so while also nurturing the creative process. It allows students that are naturally drawn to visual art, design, music, creative writing and drama to learn how to better apply their artistic skills in a modern, tech-driven world. Conversely, for those students who thrive in classrooms that prioritize hard science, math and logic, STEAM allows them to develop and nurture their creativity in an integrated learning environment.

A proper STEAM education involves utilizing a tactile, real-world approach in order to foster creativity and self-expression in all students. Students drawn to artistic subjects often learn differently than those drawn to math and the sciences. STEAM takes this into account and aims to cater to different learning styles. In doing so, the method facilitates a well-rounded education that prepares students for the future.

What are the Applications of a STEAM Education?

STEAM learning can play a major role in helping future artists, designers, sound technicians, cinematographers and sculptors develop the skills they need in order to bring their creations to life in innovative ways. At the same time, it also helps future computer programmers and engineers stay engaged with the creative process. If nothing else, a proper arts education can teach students to always value empathy, self-expression and curiosity in whatever career path they decide to go down.

In terms of applicable STEAM-oriented career paths, one of the most commonly referenced is architecture. This is a field that seamlessly combines the knowledge of STEAM’s five educational pillars. It also shows how integral arts education can be; training and inspiring a student to create beautiful buildings depends just as much on fostering creative expression as it does science, technology, engineering and math.

STEAM education can also teach students how to design both digital works of art and physical objects. From video games and digital ads to abstract sculptors and artificial organs, STEAM can help students apply their creativity to everyday life. By integrating tools like 3D scanners and printers, sound mixing boards, digital design programs, LEGO and even VR machines into the classroom, the possibilities for STEAM-based artistic projects are virtually limitless.

STEAM presents exciting opportunities in subjects traditionally thought of to be more academic and less hands on. For example, by using 3D scanning in art history applications, researchers are able to better understand ancient pieces of artwork by building reconstructions of incomplete works in a virtual 3D space. Teachers can find STEAM development opportunities in simple projects. For example, developing language arts skills helps students create clear, compelling scientific research papers and lab reports.

Find Out How STEAM Learning Can Change the Classroom

Integrating STEAM-based learning into the classroom can have lasting benefits for students due to its comprehensive approach to a well-rounded education. To find out more about STEAM vs STEM education, as well as how 3D scanning can contribute to both of these learning methods, visit our blog or browse our website today.

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