What is the difference between STEM, STEAM and iSTEAM?

Updated: Mar 31

December 14, 2020

Nikolas Zetouni


I am pretty sure you are overwhelmed with lots of information everyday related to your children and education and its acronyms. BOE, DER, GE, GED… we can create a whole phrase made of acronyms. But if you are tuned in what is trendy, you might have heard of STEM and STEAM.

So, what is STEM?

STEM stands for Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. You might be thinking… “When I was young, I studied all of these, so what is actually new?”. STEM actually breaks the walls between the areas of knowledge. Traditionally, schools will have a Geography teacher to teach Geography, and that will have no connection to Math. But in the real world, these two are often combined. For instance, if you want to create a map, you will need to understand about countries, their people, they landscape, but also the country’s area and how to scale that to a map size. That is exactly what STEM does It mixes the areas of knowledge with lots of hands on, mostly in form of projects, tackling issues like any professional would do. If your kids are learning STEM only in theory… something is wrong.

But… what about STEAM?

If you are an artistic person like me, you might not be very compelled to learn from STEM. It is techy, sciency but it does not leave a lot of room for creativity. That is where STEAM comes in play. The letter “A” stands for Art and it brings the acronym to the next level. Let me use cell phones as an example. When they were created, cell phones were more like a STEM product – they were designed to do their jobs. They were big, bulky but they worked. How would cell phones look like if they were developed using a STEAM approach? The answer is in your pocket, purse or on your desk (and I am referring to your cell phone). By adding Art to the mix, students understand the value of design and aesthetics. We can create great things, but not sell them if they do not please the eye. That is why STEAM is hotter than STEM.

But what I really want to talk about is iSTEAM

Yeah, I know, another letter in the acronym? BA-NA-NAS! The “i” on STEAM stands for Innovation. But not innovation on the sense of something novel. Innovation on the sense of making things better. And why is that so hot nowadays? We are living in a entrepreneurship & start-ups world. Companies like Netflix, Uber, SkipTheDishes didn’t invented the wheel, they just enhanced products that already existed by bringing them to new medias. iSTEAM aims to give that edge to our children – so they can be educated in thinking outside the box, to understand the world as it is and innovate from within.

In summary, the difference between the three acronyms are new areas of knowledge added (in this case, Arts and Innovation). But all of them work the same way: intertwining the areas of knowledge, allowing students to tackle learning through projects, aiming to teach them how knowledge work in real life, rather than the traditional classroom approach.