By Annie Chang

As educators make weighty changes to school curriculum and standardized tests, different acronyms such as STEM and STEAM have been swirling around schools across the nation. What are they and which one, if any, is better?


STEM, an education grouping referring to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, aims to equip students with the skills to succeed in the 21st century. STEM education focuses on project-based learning for students to apply their apply math and science knowledge to real-world situations, and learn valuable skills such as critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration. STEM is at the core of what we do, connecting to sports, arts, and entertainment. Proponents of a STEM-only education argue that there needs to be a clear separation between STEM and STEAM to focus on the latter, especially as statistics reveal that U.S. students are falling behind their global competitors in math and science.


Pioneered by the Rhode Island School of Design, the STEAM (STEM with the added “A” for art) movement integrates language arts, social studies, design, and other art disciplines in a similarly project-based, STEM-focused track. A student working on an electroluminescent costume, a sample STEAM project, would sketch a preliminary design as well as use circuits, modeling software, and a 3D printer to bring the idea to reality. Advocates of STEAM have pointed out that lessons are more engaging and provide easier access to challenging subjects. They argue that STEAM not only fulfills the purpose of a STEM education, but also trains both the left and right side of the brain, develops well-rounded students, and boosts innovation and creativity.

Which one is better?

While discussion of methodologies is critical to our education system, bickering about the issue misses the main point. In the increasingly technological 21st century, the creative application of knowledge is a practice that should be encouraged in all schools. What’s important for our students is learning how technical concepts relate to the real-world, regardless of whether we choose STEM, STEAM, or other.


The relevance of the debate is not a matter of methodology but of end results for our students.