STEM vs. STEAM (the complete guide for parents in 2023)


In today’s world, while parents and caregivers are familiar with STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, it is our belief that more people need to learn about STEAM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.

To help you with some clear definitions of and practices, we’ve put together this article which outlines the two systems and notes a few key differentiators that STEAM brings to help you best support your children, particularly girls aged 6-16.

It all starts with STEM

Since the early 2000s, STEM has existed. Over the decades, it has become more mainstream and schools across North America have found the dollars to place into STEM education programs. Here are some examples you may recognize if you are a parent or caregiver within the Canadian education system:

  • Providing kids with mobile devices (sometimes in the forms of computer labs, and other times in the form of 1:1 – a single device for each student)
  • After-school STEM groups or initiatives and STEM days to promote experiential learning in each of these fields
  • Robotics education; and an emphasis on coding

Everything evolves and so does STEM, in efforts to effectively fulfill the demands of a 21st century economy. A “STEM to STEAM” movement has been growing over the past few years and has gained momentum. The premise is that in order for our children to thrive in the present and the swiftly approaching future, often referred to as a post-pandemic VUCA world (Volatile Uncertain Complex Ambiguous), STEM alone misses out a number of crucial elements that many companies, educators, and parents have cited as essential.

STEM and STEAM align in the way they approach work and problem solving in our daily lives. Both offer exceptional methods of instructing and creating a powerful learning environment.

The nuance is in the artistry. ie: The A of STEAM. (if you’d like to read this article on the pivotal importance of that one letter, A, you’ll find it here). Using STEAM education results in students who take conscious risks, engage in experiential learning, persist in problem-solving, embrace teamwork, and work through the creative process with confidence. This is what creates the leaders, teachers, inventors, and changemakers of the twenty-first century!

STEAM relies on essential elements to reach its full educational potential:

  • At its core, the STEAM approach, like STEM, places a strong emphasis on process-based learning, inquiry, and collaboration.
  • A true STEAM effort must use and leverage the integrity of the arts itself and include it in as many parts of the process as possible
  • STEAM is an integrated approach to education that calls for a deliberate relationship between standards, tests, and the design and delivery of lessons. Something that is unlikely to happen entirely in the typical classroom across Canada and the US. Most efforts will therefore be supplementary and call for parent or caregiver involvement.
  • True STEAM experiences entail teaching and assessing at least two STEAM standards (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) in and through one another. ie: teaching math through art.

We will continue this discourse in a second-part article, where we will cover the details adding arts to STEM curriculums and provide a roundup of resources and paths you can take with your child as you navigate 2023.

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