STEM vs. STEAM: Is One Better for Girls?
Over the years, a significant effort has been made to engage girls in STEM-related fields. Unfortunately, there has been a growing body of research to suggest that these efforts aren’t working as intended. Today’s guest post explores the topic of STEM vs. STEAM. Is one better for girls? You decide!
This is a guest post by Kate Began
STEM vs. STEAM
According to a newly released study from Microsoft, girls not only struggle to see themselves in STEM roles but also don’t see the potential for creativity in STEM. Could incorporating art and creativity into STEM be the solution to fostering young girls’ interest in STEM?
What Is STEAM?
STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math. While some may scoff at the idea of art and design being in any way critical to STEM, it’s become a key area of focus for many researchers, teachers and parents.
Humanities and STEM have long been separate areas of study. Yet, some of the brightest minds throughout history have combined art and STEM to innovate and create, from Leonardo da Vinci to Canadian bioartist Francois-Joseph Lapointe and many others.
The invention of camouflage, the first production of the color blue and countless other discoveries were only made possible by successfully combining math, science and art. If art is the key to unlocking innovation in some creative minds, why are we excluding it from modern STEM education?
Art and Its Relationship to STEM
In her 2002 TED Talk, doctor and astronaut Mae Jemison said that the arts and scientists are both “avatars of human creativity.” Jemison recognized early what many people are only now beginning to realize: that the arts and STEM are two sides of the same coin.
While scientists and mathematicians use data and numbers to make sense of the world around them, artists and designers use their work to present a shared understanding of the world. Both disciplines share similar methods to observe, experiment and create.
The Importance of Art in STEM Education
Although some may recognize the strong connection between arts and STEM, they may not realize the important role that art plays in our children’s education. The arts are key to building essential skills in girls that will help prepare them for a future in STEM.
For instance, arts can build important critical thinking skills, unlock creativity and build confidence. The arts can also teach girls focus, perseverance and how to receive feedback. In other words, it teaches many of the “soft skills” that today’s engineers often lack.
The American public seems to agree on the importance of art. According to Americans for the Arts, 91 percentof adults believe the arts are a key part of a well-rounded K-12 education.
Unfortunately, government funding for the arts is often the first thing to be cut. With the importance of the arts in STEM, it’s critical that the public puts more pressure on lawmakers to support art funding programs.
What Does STEAM Education Look Like?
STEAM is not yet as widespread as STEM, which means that many parents and teachers don’t know what it looks like in the classroom. However, the opportunities for using this cross-curricular approach to STEM are endless.
In fact, many STEM activities are STEAM activities in disguise. For instance, this Squishy Circuits toy uses insulating play dough and electronics to teach girls about electricity. The girls can make all sorts of fun shapes and figures while exploring circuitry.
Another STEAM activity that will engage girls is challenging them to write their own scientific poetry. They could write haikus or limericks about famous women scientists or write a poem about a scientific process.
Music, writing, painting, sculpting and photography can all easily be integrated into many of today’s STEM activities for girls. By rebranding STEM as STEAM, teachers and parents can help unlock young girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math.
Should STEAM Replace STEM?
STEM vs. STEAM? It should be noted that not every girl needs art to become engaged in STEM. Some enjoy tinkering with electronics or solving complex math equations without needing an art component.
This is one reason why STEM probably won’t replace STEAM anytime soon. However, it’s clear that leaving arts out of STEM education is doing more harm than good for our girls.
This is especially true for girls around the age of 15. According to a 2017 Microsoft survey, this is the age when girls start to lose interest in science and technology.
Although researchers aren’t certain why their interest wanes at this age, some suspect that it comes down to lack of female role models and not getting enough real-life experience with STEM subjects.
Integrating art into STEM can help in both cases. Not only can art build confidence in girls and give them the perseverance they need to pursue a career in STEM, it can also give them practical skills which can be applied in the real world.
After two decades of attempting to reduce the gender disparity in STEM, the number of women in STEM occupations remains abysmally low. Based on the latest research, incorporating the arts into STEM education may be the answer to encouraging more girls into STEM fields.
Currently, STEM lacks art and creativity. It’s not that STEAM is necessarily better than STEM, but that it has a wider appeal to girls whose interests may not be sparked by traditional methods.
By allowing girls to see and explore the creative side of STEM, we could finally make significant strides in getting girls to enter STEM fields.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate Began serves as the Sales & Marketing Manager for Polycase. Kate oversees the customer service representatives, assists with product development and leads the marketing efforts from the Avon, Ohio headquarters. Kate holds a Business degree from Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Before joining Polycase, Kate was an investment banking analyst. Kate is an avid Cleveland Indians fan.