Scientists are fond of abbreviations, and so are science communicators! Two very common ones used in education, outreach and policy are STEM and STEAM.
What are STEM and STEAM?
One of the terms you’ll come across a lot in science communication is STEM. It’s an abbreviation that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The umbrella term becomes relevant in the context of education and public engagement, which often has a very broad aim to engage young people with STEM fields.
You might also come across the term STEAM, which adds an A for the Arts.
Incorporating the arts into STEM
Both STEM and STEAM are primarily interested in broadening engagement with science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Even though STEAM has an added A for Arts, this does not mean that they’re equally concerned with getting kids enrolled in art history as they are with the next generation of scientists and engineers. Rather, STEAM incorporates the arts into STEM education.
This could take the form of emphasizing that both art and science are involved in certain processes and fields (such as 3D printing or architecture), or it could be a way to describe the use of arts-based STEM exploration, like using music instruments to teach physics.
Ultimately, STEAM emphasizes that there is a creative side to STEM subjects.
- Segarra VA, Natalizio B, Falkenberg CV, Pulford S, Holmes RM. STEAM: Using the Arts to Train Well-Rounded and Creative Scientists. J Microbiol Biol Educ 2018; 19. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1360.
- Wade-Leeuwen B, Vovers J, Silk M. Explainer: what’s the difference between STEM and STEAM? The Conversation.
- Feldman A. Why We Need to Put the Arts Into STEM Education. Slate Magazine. 2015