STEAM is a growing buzzword in education, but what is STEAM and why is it important?

What is STEAM?

Many educators are familiar with STEM, the acronym for the subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math. STEAM is a growing area of focus that encompasses the STEM subjects, but also incorporates the arts. Arts programs engage students, promote creativity, and even reduce high school dropout rates. As public schools continue to face budget cuts, however, the arts programs are often the first to go.

For many students, STEM subjects are seen as boring, tedious, and lacking real-world applications. Science and math have always been a major part of the high school curriculum, but many students have disengaged from these subjects because they don’t see that they have any relevance to the real world or students’ daily lives. For them, math and science have become a set of rules, procedures, laws, theorems, and formulas to memorize. Some students even develop math anxiety and think they are incapable of learning higher-level mathematics.

Technology and engineering courses are beginning to have more of a presence in high schools, but many students feel that those types of classes are not for them. Some students are influenced by gender or racial biases which say that female and minority students are less capable in STEM subjects. Other students think these courses are only intended for advanced students or those who plan to pursue careers as computer scientists or engineers.

STEAM initiatives might provide a solution for these students who have disengaged from traditional STEM programs. The arts integrate concepts from all of the STEM subjects while allowing students to develop their creativity and problem-solving skills. Any performance, for example – whether a play, musical, dance recital, or concert – requires a wide variety of STEM skills to produce. Sets must be designed, built, and made to move easily, sometimes in very complex ways or synchronized for pinpoint timing. Some productions utilize elaborate costumes that must be designed and sewn to suit both the actor wearing the costume and the character the costume is meant to portray. In all performances, acoustics must be considered, audio must be balanced, and lighting must be timed perfectly. Arts programs provide a rare opportunity for students to incorporate knowledge from all core subject areas while helping them to feel motivated, engaged, and creative.

Why is STEAM important?

A survey of U.S. employers found that creativity is one of the top three personality traits most important to career success, where 72 percent of employers said that creativity is of primary concern when they are hiring. Yet 85 percent of those employers can’t find the creative applicants they seek. A major factor in this skills gap is the removal of arts programs from public schools.

What is STEAM?The benefits of STEAM initiatives are not limited to increased creativity, however. Researchers found that students who study art are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. They also found that sustained learning in music and theater correlates strongly with higher achievement in both math in reading. In fact, the highest-performing countries in math and science, such as Japan, Hungary, and the Netherlands, have mandatory arts and music education programs.

As the global economy continues to evolve, the need for creative workers with problem-solving skills will continue to grow. By getting teachers and students involved in the STEAM movement, a creative generation of workers will be poised to energize and revolutionize the work force.

Looking for new ways to integrate STEAM concepts in your classroom and unleash your students’ creativity? Check out these ways to implement project-based learning.


Ready to Innovate, a collaboration between The Conference Board, Americans for the Arts, and the American Association of School Administrators
National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, “Re-Investing in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools.”
The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities
“Lessons from PISA for the United States, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education”, OECD Publishing, 2011

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