Do You Know STEM from STEAM?

Both of these innovative programs are designed to help your student prepare for a successful career in today's fastest-growing sector. Learn more about STEM and STEAM -- and why your child's school should incorporate them.
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If you want your child to thrive in a challenging, well-paid career when she grows up, keep this in mind: It's the nerds who will rule the world! According to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economics & Statistics Administration, career opportunities related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) over the past ten years have grown three times as fast as non-STEM jobs. That's why schools across the country are developing classes that blend these disciplines. Some have taken it one step further, adding "A" for art/design to make STEAM. Learn more about these innovative programs -- and check to make sure your school is incorporating them.

Why is it so hot right now?

By 2018 there are projected to be 2.4 million STEM jobs in the U.S. that could go unfilled due to lack of qualified workers. And by including art, STEAM promotes risk-taking, creativity, and flexible thinking, enabling kids to be innovative in writing, art, performance, and/or music, as well as technically skilled.

What does a typical third-grade project look like?

STEM: Design a mini parachute using your choice of provided materials (such as coffee filters, string, scissors, a waster, and plastic bags).

STEAM: Create a water-bottle holder with the provided materials, such as Styrofoam, aluminum foil, and duct tape, then determine which keeps the water coldest. Decorate the cover to show water's importance in history or science.

What questions should you ask your school?

Do you have a formal STEM or STEAM program in place, or do teachers from different classes collaborate on interdisciplinary projects? Do the science and math teachers have degrees in their subject areas? The more positive the answers, the better. If administrators say no to the above, ask how they stimulate kids' interest in creativity and invention.

What should you look for when you visit?

Examine the projects hanging on the walls and sitting in the display cases. Are they creative and varied, or do they look "prefab"? Do the classrooms have a rich assortment of materials, and have kids built interesting things using them? Also look for evidence of engagement beyond the classroom: What are students talking about when they leave the classroom?

Sources: Stan Silverman, director of New York Institute of Technology's Technology Based Learning Systems, in New York City; Sean Aiken, head of school of BASIS Washington D.C., a network of charter and private schools offering a rigorous STEM-based curriculum.

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