Almost two decades into the 21st century, our society has been radically transformed by the digital revolution. In all sectors of life, we are confronted with a world created by technology that 30 years ago would have been unfathomable.

To put it another way, we are living in a world molded by science, technology, engineering and math. It’s for this reason that the multidisciplinary teaching methods of the STEM curriculum have become one of the most important and pervasive trends in education.

The various elements of the STEM curriculum — science, technology, engineering and math — are complementary and fit together quite nicely. But for many, the STEM approach puts too much weight on one side of the brain. Kids of all ages could benefit from a curriculum that integrates more creative lessons, and what about reading?

That’s precisely where STEAM and STREAM approaches to education come in, by adding reading and art to the mix.

Initially, art and reading might seem to be incompatible with the subjects that make up the STEM curriculum, subjects that favor logical, analytical, objective and rational thinking. Though differences do exist, STEM, STEAM and STREAM benefit from multidisciplinary teaching techniques.

This is how STEM works best

For a variety of reasons, students have had a longstanding phobia of math and science, subjects that are at the foundation of the STEM curriculum. One of the big reasons for this is that both math and science (but especially math) can be rather abstract subjects.

It’s common to hear students complain that “I’ll never need to know this” when they sit down to learn math or, say, the periodic table. The problem here is that they don’t see yet how these subjects have any relevance to their own life.

This is why an interdisciplinary approach has been so important to the success of STEM programs.

Providing students with hands-on activities, projects and exercises allows them to see how math and science are relevant and how mathematical and scientific principles are manifested in some of the most exciting technology we use today.

In brief, it allows them to relate to the abstract concepts and understand why studying these core subjects is pertinent in their lives. 

What is the STEAM curriculum?

Bringing all the STEM subjects together into one, integrated curriculum takes a lot of creativity, savvy and planning. But what if you were to add art to the equation?

That’s exactly what the “A” in STEAM stands for, and for many, it may seem like a leap. After all, the STEM subjects are closely related, but how does art fit in?

The simple answer is that contrary to popular perceptions, there is a creative, imaginative side to engineering, technology, math and science. As many STEAM proponents like to point out, it was Albert Einstein who famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

One of the major advantages of integrating art into a STEM curriculum is that it gives students another point of entry into STEM subjects. For those who are more inclined to the arts and imaginative activities, a STEAM curriculum can be a perfect way to break down perceived barriers and ignite new academic interests.

STREAM uses the power of storytelling

As humans, we are naturally drawn to stories. By placing concepts in the context of a story, these ideas come alive and feel more real for students.

This is why educators have added an “R” (or a reading and wRiting) component to the STEAM curriculum.

Rather than read from a textbook, the idea here is to have students read complementary materials that illustrate some of the concepts they are working with.

This can come in the form of reading books like the Sir Cumference Math Adventures series or through writing exercises that allow students to explore and express their educational journey.

This truly cross-disciplinary approach covers an array of subjects, while integrating them in a truly exciting way.

On a practical level, students of STEM education are needed to fill the more than 3 million job openings in STEM-related fields. By adding arts and reading to the curriculum, students not only receive a well-rounded education, but acquire skills that make them more dynamic and creative thinkers.