I just wrote a curriculum of STEM programs for a rural library to hold for special education high school students. I was initially intimidated by the concept because I am a liberal arts major, a creative writing fellow, a librarian for the love of books. Thankfully I found tons of research and ideas for STEM programs online, especially on the YALSA wiki.

The program ideas I came up with on my own, on the other hand, seemed more…artsy. Given my background, that’s not a huge surprise, but I felt defeated when I’d come up with what I thought was a great idea just to realize it’s too artsy.

That’s when I discovered STEAM. The programs I wrote are strictly STEM, and I respect that and stuck to it. But there is a debate about STEM vs. STEAM, and as someone who has only become familiar with these concepts in the last couple of years, I’m fascinated.  

The push for STEM is at least partially because there is a need to improve test scores in these subjects. There has also been a recent push to get girls and minorities more interested in science and math, and STEM programs are a fun way to do that. There are people who value STEM over STEAM, arguing that America needs more STEM workers than artists, and focusing on STEM in school may shift the career field away from being male-dominated. But those who argue for STEAM over STEM say that it is important to have the arts included, to stress creativity and innovation in addition to science, technology, engineering, and math.

I think including the arts is a good idea to help students be well-rounded, to inspire creativity when faced with a technical problem, and to show that there can be a straight-forward scientific approach to the arts. With arts programs being cut in the schools, it’s a good way to keep the arts involved in the curriculum. If a school or library system already has a STEM program in place, there’s probably not a good enough reason to change it, but if your school or library is going to implement a new program, would you recommend STEM or STEAM?

Further reading:

STEM vs. STEAM: Why The “A” Makes a Difference

Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous


The Hub – Scientifically funny nonfiction

The Hub – Blinded by Science: YouTubers and Podcasts to Follow

The Hub – New Nonfiction Science for Teens


About Allison Renner

Allison recently graduated with her MLS and is a new teen services librarian in Memphis, Tennessee.

One Thought on “STEM vs. STEAM

  1. This is a great read-aloud piece for staff meetings–to get people thinking and talking about using “STEM-plus” as much as possible. STEM-themed poems are a great way to introduce and reinforce STEM vocabulary and concepts. I’m happy using either term (STEM or STEAM) . . .

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