What is STEM and STEAM Education? Why are they important?
The term, STEM, has been promoted by the government since 2016 to equip students in Hong Kong with scientific mindsets and technological knowledge when they adapt into the ever-changing, technology-driven world.
Since then, every parent knows STEM education is related to technology and science — which is definitely true, but do you understand what STEM education really is?
A lesser-known term, STEAM education, was introduced years ago. You may wonder if the two terms are the same while I can tell you the answer: absolutely not! Read the article below to find out more about the differences between STEAM and STEM education, as well as their importance.
What is STEM?
To put it in the simplest way, STEM is the combination of four words, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Despite recent promotion about the education approach, the first usage of the term can be traced back to 1862 when the Morrill Act was established.
Rather than a subject, STEM is more like an interdisciplinary educational philosophy which places emphasis on real-life applications, with a view to helping kids meet future job demand. It already sounds beneficial to your kids, right?
What is STEAM?
STEAM is nothing new but just STEM plus an ‘A’ (Arts), simple as that! It is a relatively new concept which was first suggested by scholar Georgette Yakman in 2006.
As its components suggest, STEAM focuses not only on technical skills like problem-solving, but also on soft skills like conversation and creativity by cultivating kids’ artistic sense. In short, STEAM is like a progressed version of the original STEM education!
STEM vs. STEAM
Now you know what these two terms mean; however, which education approach should be applied to your kids? Let’s take a look at the comparison below!
One clear difference between their scopes is the additional ‘A’. Only acquiring technical knowledge cannot lead to success in any career. Creativity and artistic abilities developed by taking arts programmes are crucial in STEM career development as well since they can complement the learning of science and mathematics. This is also the reason why STEAM focuses more on forming interrelationships between different subjects to facilitate comprehensive learning, while STEM focuses on solely conveying knowledge about the four subjects.
Differences can also be found in terms of teaching methods. Although the contents in both approaches are pretty much the same, the ways how they are taught are quite different. Let’s take a look at the following example:
- It is a STEM practice to ask students what the maximum number of crops can be planted in a farmland in a certain size is while it is a STEAM practice to let students propose and draft a device to help a farmer decide the way of planting the crops to maximise outputs.
It can be observed that STEAM teaching involves more elements of imagination and creativity, in other words, there are fewer clear instructions and standard answers but more room for utilising innovation.
The Benefits of STEM & STEAM Education
The reason for the popularity of STEM & STEAM education is straightforward and simple — they are beneficial to kids’ future development. Here, we have summarised 7 major benefits of STEM & STEAM education:
1. Develop problem-solving skills
As mentioned, there are many real-life applications in classes which apply STEM/ STEAM education. Through all the activities which ask students to think of solutions to solve real-life problems, kids can learn the different steps of tackling problems, such as analysing the root causes.
2. Facilitate teamwork
Group projects are very common in STEAM classes. By brainstorming, researching and discussing with groupmates, kids can undoubtedly learn how to work with friends as a team and develop communication skills.
3. Foster creativity
Students always encounter questions which require them to utilise their creativity especially in STEAM classes as arts elements are integrated into the traditional maths education. Kids have to be innovative with a scientific mindset to propose new ideas to solve problems.
4. Develop critical thinking
Students are not only sitting in classrooms and listening to teachers under a STEAM curriculum, but also taking the initiative to solve existing problems by researching. In order to come up with a feasible strategy, kids have to experience the process of re-organising all the information they have got, which allows them to sharpen their critical thinking.
5. Understanding the arts
STEAM includes arts to be one of the five disciplinaries; therefore, students can develop the skills of appreciating artworks by applying arts when solving mathematical and technological questions.
6. Develop growth mindset
There is no better way to improve oneself than practising and trying! The STEAM style of teaching never gives answers directly to kids but guides them to strive for excellence themselves. Children will thus understand they can improve themselves by trying hard through the process, and have a growth mindset developed.
7. Develop 22nd-century thinking & skills
Students are encouraged to actively ask questions of ‘whys’ and ‘hows’, which help them foster the attitude of self-motivated learning. This kind of mentality allows students to learn knowledge of different fields and become a professional with multiple expertises, which is greatly demanded in the 22nd century.
STEM & STEAM Education in Hong Kong
It is quite obvious that the popularity of STEM education is skyrocketing lately as posters about STEM are found in almost every local and international school. STEAM is getting more and more welcomed since schools are being aware of the importance of Arts towards kids’ growth.
However, one huge limitation is found in the STEM/STEAM education in Hong Kong. Since the report Promoting STEM Education - Unleash Your Creativity was released, only few schools have followed a step-by-step comprehensive STEM curriculum for students. More frequently, local schools organise one-off STEM events or ECAs as add-ons to the traditional curriculum. For example, robotic competitions are organised for primary students to engage in. Students may be provided with training for the competitions but not ongoing education on technological knowledge. The lack of continuous learning limits the benefits that STEM can bring to students.
Big Bang STEAM - Learn Science With Fun!
Is there any method available for you to allow your kids to learn STEAM on a continuous basis? Big Bang STEAM is here for you!
Big Bang Academy’s online learning platform and STEAM curriculum allows children to gain hands-on experience in making discoveries of their own and learning countless facts about the universe. Our STEAM curriculum is designed by Cambridge educators and aligned with different international curricula such as the US NGSS and Singapore National Science. Once you subscribe to the curriculum, your kid gets the following every month!
- 2 completed online lessons on our online learning platform, Big Bang Lab
- 2 science experiment kits
- 1 science workbook
- 1 science vocabulary book
Apart from the online learning model, we organise occasional events like workshops to allow your kids to enjoy the benefits of blended learning, i.e. to get more engagement. Right now, we are holding Summer STEAM Camp in five locations in Hong Kong. Teaching the four interdisciplinary topics (Physics & Sports, Chemistry & Magic, Astronomy & Engineering and Ecology & Global Citizenship), the camps will provide quality education for your kids with small class sizes and certificates.
Sign up for the online STEAM curriculum at 55% off and register for the summer camps now!