STEM Versus STEAM: Funding & Mechanism Definitions

by | Nov 14, 2018 | Partners, Research, Development

BizzyB at STEM Ecosystems | Bizgenics FoundationBizzyB and Bizgenics Foundation were excited to represent the Hawai’i Loa STEM Ecosystems Cabinet (one of 84 regional STEM Ecosystems from across the United States and world beyond) at the bi-annual STEM Ecosystems Fall Convening in Newport Beach, CA. STEM Ecosystems is a leading education consortium that operates out of Irvine, CA. This was the Hawai’i Loa Cabinet’s first appearance at this organization and we were honored to spend time learning with other practitioners about national trends, standards and promising practices. We also made many great relationship connections and are excited to apply much of what we learned to our region back in the islands.

STEM vs STEAM: The “A” for “Art”

Many key discussions centered around the semantic difference between STEM  (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) and STEAM (adding an “A” for “Art”). About half of the attendees were into the “STEAM” version with many actually embedding it into their organization names. As we reflected on the rationale behind adding the “Art” component, we saw that the notion is largely based in creating hands-on STEM application experiences for students in order to create greater engagement and foster impressions upon students of how STEM content mastery is relevant to their futures. Interesting, multiple studies were cited that conclude that STEM curriculums to date, all result in a lower interest in students for higher STEM learning or STEM careers. Thus, there’s a big drive to make STEM relevant, useful and demanded by students.

STEAM Via Project-Based Learning

While “Art” is a good step toward activities that create hands-on activities, there are richer ways, particularly for middle and high school students to experience STEM in forward-leaning engagement activities. Art has always been pretty relevant to “Play Space Learning” but greater traction is offered by Project-Based Learning (“PBL”) or it’s higher sub-levels, Problem-Based- and Innovation-Based- Learning. Problem-based Learning demands the identification of a problem and solution which is more than mere expressive activity. Innovation-Based Learning takes learning a step further to require identification of problem, solution, goals and track value added results. This latest variant of PBL is most aligned with the needs of industry workforce demand.

STEM Funding Definition

Interestingly, the history of why STEM exists is worth considering. STEM was created as a funding mechanism to foster innovation in the education space in after school programs and non-traditional paths. Nonprofits were seen as a key to innovation as school districts are too slow to evolve. Thus, irrespective of whether your program is hands-on or not, pitching it as STEM is key to gaining funding. Also note that the official definition of STEM is not limited to the four topics stated. They are merely representative of content mastery in general thus can cover other areas on study. The key in some views is to tie back to standardized testing to measure program outcomes.

STEM in All Experiences

We’re big believers in contextualizing STEM to all experiences. All jobs have STEM needs. They simply vary. So rather than separate STEM out as pre-knowledge requirements that layer up as cumulative strata, we’re believers in cutting curriculum topics vertically by including bits of STEM in hands-on project-based tracks. Academies style education is this path and we’re big believers in it.

Adding an “A” for Aloha

Beyond vertically-segmented curriculum in academy format, we also believe that teaching good social values is essential to all education activities. Thus, we define STEAM with the “A” for  Aloha which means living in a giving and cooperative fashion. It’s a complex set of positive values that manifests in different ways for various contexts. One example is BizzyB’s PBL Goal Setting Features that require project teams to define goals in what we call the 3Ps: helping People, making the Planet sustainable and fostering Profit as delivered value (splitting Profit into reinvestment, compensation and philanthropic support of charities).