In the past few years, the acronym STEM has become its own phenomenon. The importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education has been emphasized over and over, from elementary school students all the way through to college graduates seeking successful career paths.

Then came STEAM. Adding Art, the right-brain’s signature activity, into the list of traditionally left-brained activities might seem confusing. Now, STREAM integrates Reading (and wRiting!) to the mix. STREAM might sound like nothing more than just a full school day — what else is there to learn? — but the evolution of the acronym shows just how beneficial it can be.

STREAM isn’t about growing the laundry list of things to learn. Instead, it combines various disciplines into one united form of learning. Separating different areas of education into the “left brain” and “right brain” makes it seem like there’s no room for the two types of learning to coexist. Plus, it can create the pressure to choose one path.

However, we only have one brain, with the right and left combined! One person can be both a “math and science person” and an “art person” at the same time. That’s where STREAM comes in.

Let’s look at an example: music. Music might seem like a purely artistic activity. However, a musician incorporates math and physics into their work every time they pick up an instrument. Composing a song requires music theory, which counts individual notes into the larger rhythm (among many, many other applications of counting and math) and the physics of sound bends waves through the air with every note.

Cool, right? Just like a STREAM perspective helps us see the math in music, it can also help us see the art in natural sciences like biology or the writing skills needed to succeed in computer science.

So, why have all three acronyms? They function best as umbrellas rather than three specific, separate tools. STEM falls under STEAM and STEAM falls under STREAM. Focusing on just one area helps students build specific skills. Emphasizing just a STEM education at times can make sure those skills are reinforced, especially in students who haven’t always been prioritized for STEM learning. (Ladies, we’re looking at you!)

Many of us might remember the pressure to pick a “side” in school — there was time to take extra science classes or extra art classes, but not both. The “science people” went one way, the “art people” went another. By introducing a STREAM education early, students can see that both “sides” are always working together.