STEM, STEAM, or STREAM?

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Growing up I was educated on the three R’s: reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic (yes, I know it’s arithmetic, but back then it was about the sound of the letter, not the actual letter). These seemed to be the cornerstone of all learning, no matter the topic, and the things you would need to know to become a successful adult.

Fast forward to 2001, when the term “STEM” started circulating. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It was a push from the National Science Foundation to start focusing education on the then up-and-coming technologies that required science backgrounds to continue to develop. At the same time, we were in the midst of a movement from an industrial age to a cloud age, which sparked a change in how our youth learn. Suddenly, learning had turned the page from traditional books to laptops and tablets.

In 2017, STEM added a controversial letter A (not a scarlet letter) to the acronym, becoming STEAM. The “A” stood for Arts – all arts. The diehard STEM supporters said there was no need to add the “A” to the acronym because they weren’t downplaying other areas of study, they were just trying to magnify the need for students in STEM. However, arts supporters argued that due to the popularity of STEM, arts funding had significantly decreased and the arts needed to be included because it could cause a cultural disparity. Also, the argument could be made that STEM has created an entirely new line of arts with virtual reality, augmented reality, and even gaming.

In late 2018, STEAM became STREAM (no, not how we watch video on devices), to add the reading and writing into the equation. Literacy experts are concerned with a focus on science, technology engineering, arts, and math,  students are skipping the basics. If they aren’t literate, how can they accomplish the simplest position in STEM? STEM advocates argue that STREAM is diluting the focus of STEM.

Why am I laying all of this out for you right now? Experts estimate in the next five years there will be more than 100,000 jobs available in the drone industry. Let that sink in while you realize we have a generation that cannot write or read cursive writing, and another generation that asks Google, Alexis, and Siri to answer questions when generations before them went to the library or opened an encyclopedia to locate an answer. Is it better or worse? I can’t answer that. However, if we are looping back to the basics and technology is taking off, maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about what we call it, but instead focus our overall approach on how we educate youth.

Let me throw one last acronym out there:  4-H. The H’s stand for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. That acronym won’t be changing and will always stand for educating youth on what they need to be successful adults – goal setting, decision making, healthy eating, STEM, STEAM, and even STREAM.

For more information, contact Shea Ann DeJarnette, Extension 4-H Youth Development Agent, at 910-671-3276, by email at Shea_Ann_DeJarnette@ncsu.edu, or visit our website.

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