The STEAM opportunity for young women (science, technology, engineering, art, and math)


The concept of STEAM has gained momentum the past 5 years. One marker of that is the number of schools that are beginning to place a deep value on the arts just as much as they do science, tech, engineering, and math. And this focus, we believe, is particularly important as we bring more women to the wonderful world of technology.

Earlier this year we wrote about the powerful difference between STEM and STEAM. (You can read that article here) Today we wanted to dive a little deeper into how that evolution came to be and where the opportunities lie.

Where STEM began

The STEM education movement advocates moving away from segmented content areas, and instead emphasizing technology to connect the subjects to the outside world. The system emphasizes the development of 21st-century abilities so that students become good at teamwork, questioning, problem-solving, and critical thinking. STEM is popularly believed to have originated in the tech boom of the 1990’s and beyond.

Growing from STEM to STEAM

John Maeda, former president of the Rhode Island School of Design, promoted the ‘STEM to STEAM’ movement by pushing for the inclusion of arts in STEM and bringing the project to the attention of decision-makers in the field of education. His clear pitch? Innovation requires both creativity and design thinking as key components. By incorporating these ideas into and via the arts, STEAM is a means to take the advantages of STEM and round out the package. In order to give students the full range of learning options, STEAM connects students’ learning in these crucial areas with artistic practices, craft elements, design concepts, and artistic standards. Limitations are eliminated by STEAM and are replaced with amazement, criticism, inquiry, and innovation.

Where does the STEAM opportunity lie?

Going forward, addressing the gender and race gaps in STEM and STEAM is essential. In the last five years, “the number of white students who got STEM degrees climbed 15%,” according to the 2016 STEM Index of U.S. World News & World Report. There was a roughly equal decline in the number of Black students. Additionally, women’s interest in STEM fields “somewhat reduced” from the previous year.

Innovative teaching strategies can increase students’ overall interest in STEAM. Just adding more subjects to students’ curriculum and making assessment rigorous is not enough. The solution lies instead in making STEAM subjects engaging and appealing to our youth. That is the key to fostering interest in the field. This needs to work in tandem with consistently eradicating misconceptions around math and science, particularly for our young women between 6 and 16.

Recent research shows that STEAM is a promising approach to positively impacting student achievement and teacher efficacy. In a 2016 study, researchers investigated the impact of STEAM lessons on physical science learning in grades 3 to 5 in high poverty elementary schools in an urban district. Findings indicated that students who received just nine hours of STEAM instruction made improvements in their science achievement.

Another study from 2014 shows that connecting STEAM and literacy can positively impact cognitive development, increase literacy and math skills, and help students reflect meaningfully on their work and that of their classmates. It also looked at the connection between theater and students’ achievement in literacy and mathematics. Children who had theater arts integrated into their language arts curriculum frequently outperformed their counterparts in the control group in both math and language arts.

As parents, teachers, grandparents, relatives, influencers of the young people in our lives, what can we do? We believe there’s a lot of room for women in technology, and we strive to provide the education we can to support. For more information, be sure to read this blog post which offers practical ways in which you can encourage the young women in your life to embrace STEAM.