The Trouble with STEAM and Why We Use it Anyway

Friday, October 16, 2020
Resource Type:
Peer-reviewed article | Research Products | Literature Review
Environment Type: 
Public Programs, Informal/Formal Connections
Elementary School Children (6-10) | Middle School Children (11-13) | Youth/Teen (up to 17) | Educators/Teachers | Museum/ISE Professionals | Evaluators | Learning Researchers
Art, music, and theater | Education and learning science | General STEM
New School, Northwestern University, University of California, Irvine, Pratt Institute , YR Media, Trinity College Dublin, Guerilla Science , Science Gallery Dublin, University of Washington

As an emerging field of theory, research, and practice, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) has received attention for its efforts to incorporate the arts into the rubric of STEM learning. In particular, many informal educators have embraced it as an inclusive and authentic approach to engaging young people with STEM. Yet, as with many nascent fields, the conceptualization and usage of STEAM is somewhat ambivalent and weakly theorized. On the one hand, STEAM offers significant promise through its focus on multiple ways of knowing and new pathways to equitable learning. On the other hand, it is often deployed in theory, pedagogy, and practice in ambiguous or potentially problematic ways towards varying ends. This paper attempts to disentangle some of the key tensions and contradictions of the STEAM concept as currently operationalized in educational research, policy, and practice. We pay particular attention to the transformative learning potential supported by contexts where STEAM is conceptualized as both pedagogical and mutually instrumental. That is, neither STEM nor arts are privileged over the other but both are equally in play. We link the possibilities suggested by this approach to emerging theories for understanding how designing for and surfacing epistemic practices linked to the relevant disciplines being integrated into STEAM programs may point the way towards resolving tensions in inter- and trans-disciplinary learning approaches

Funding Program: 
Science Learning +
Award Number: 
Wellcome Trust
Funding Program: 
Science Learning +
Award Number: 
Publication Name: 
Science Education

Team Members

Sam MejiasAuthor
Naomi ThompsonNaomi ThompsonAuthor
Mark RosinAuthor
Elisabeth (Lissa) SoepElisabeth (Lissa) SoepAuthor
Joseph RocheAuthor
Jen WongJen WongAuthor
Mairéad HurleyMairéad HurleyAuthor
Philip BellAuthor

Request to Edit a Resource

If you would like to edit a resource, please use this form to submit your request.