STEM education is great. STEAM education could be even better.

From kindergarten to college, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education has risen to the forefront of curriculum in the American classroom. And for good reason.

Since 1990, the number of STEM jobs in the US has grown 78%, outpacing the national average. In the last 10 years alone, there have been three times as many new STEM jobs created than in any other career field.

STEM jobs are not only the fastest growing career field in the US, they are also some of the most lucrative.

Across all education levels, STEM workers tend to earn around 25% more than similarly educated non-STEM workers.

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Correspondingly, college graduates with STEM majors tend to earn more than those with non-STEM majors.

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However, while the data does indicate that a STEM education correlates with better job prospects and increased earnings, there are some crucial skills that tend to get overlooked in the traditional STEM curriculum -- skills that can make or break one’s career trajectory.

With a heavy focus on memorization and the formulaic problem-solving common in math, science, and engineering, STEM students may miss out on the opportunity to learn and refine their critical thinking and “out-of-the-box” problem solving skills that are so sought-after in today’s job market.

Another way of putting it: traditional STEM education may stifle a child’s creativity.

Enter STEAM

Just one letter, “A” may make all the difference. STEAM education integrates the Arts (humanities, music, drama, etc.) as a critical component of its curriculum.

Advocates of a STEAM education argue that the curriculum leads to more well-rounded students and is less discriminatory -- if a child doesn’t have an affinity for math and science, STEM education may leave that child behind, but STEAM give that child the opportunity to flourish studying a field like English.

And just because a student studies the arts, it doesn’t mean that they are disqualified from excelling in a STEM-centric industry.

Just look at successful tech industry figures like Brian Chesky of Airbnb (majored in Design), Jack Ma of Alibaba (majoried in English), and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki (majored in History and Literature).

So what does STEAM look like in practice?

In traditional STEM curriculum, learning about something like parabolas would involve students  memorizing formulas and solving equations.

To reinforce those skills, teachers assign homework that all looks the same: solve for this variable, draw this graph, etc. In other words, repetition, repetition, repetition.

In STEAM curriculum, students will still learn the same formulas and equations, but they would also study the application of the parabola in fields like art and architecture.

In doing so, students gain a more holistic picture of how something like mathematics can be used creatively in the real world.


Lori Shao