Putting the STEAM into STEM

STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – is seen as a rigorous application of testing, observation and experiment.   Businesses, government and educationalists see STEM education as a key solution to improve educational performance and solve persistent workforce development problems.

However, a common myth is that people are either scientific in their approach to problems OR creative. Moreover, people described as left-brain thinkers are told that they have strong maths and logic skills. Those who are described as right-brain thinkers, on the other hand, are told that their talents are more on the creative side of things. Modern engineers, designers and architects may well quite rightly point to the innovation in their fields, but, if students are taught subjects discreetly then the uptake of STEM subjects may well continue to be both unpopular and inaccessible to underrepresented groups.

We at S4TP and others who use project-based learning methods see STEM as the applied, integrated approach to those subjects. It is about using maths and science to solve real-world challenges and problems. This applied, project-based way of learning allows students to understand and appreciate the relevancy of their work to the world around them. I have seen maths lessons come alive when NHS waiting times or football statistics are used to bring illustrate mathematical concepts. In my own case, I only began to understand maths in my 20s when learning cabinetry.

In the above approach creativity is implied (indeed innovation and creativity are two of Solutions for the Planet’s core values) – but is Art the same as creativity?

Proponents of STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths see things from a different and interesting perspective.  They believe that the Arts can be seen not only as an integral part of science, engineering and design, but can also be used as an ‘intellectual ramp’ for disengaged students into the world of STEM careers, which is particularly important for encouraging underrepresented groups to choose to study STEM subjects.

Employers are indeed looking for future employees with strong skills in STEM subjects, but they are also equally (if not more so, given the rise of Artificial Intelligence) looking for people with the 21st-Century attributes of creativity; artistry; curiosity; imagination; innovation; personal expression; oral and written communication; public speaking and presenting.

By looking at the innovative ideas generated on our Big Ideas programme, and in particular the ways students choose to present those ideas, it is clear that when given the opportunity students do not see the distinction between STEM and the Arts and use both to both inspire, innovate, research and present.


Written by: Claire Fitton, S4TP Programme Coordinator, North England

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solutions for the Planet Ltd