STEM Labs vs. STEAM Labs vs. MakerSpaces vs Design Labs: Whats the difference?

If you have been paying attention to educational buzzwords recently, you may have noticed a slow migration of thought.  First, we were obsessed with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).  Then we moved from STEM  to STEAM, adding an A for the Arts to humanize the purely scientific study of STEM.  This initiative was led by our partners and neighbors at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).   Many schools and universities are rebranding their STEM labs STEAM labs and beginning to incorporate art and the esthetics into their engineering and technology projects.

You may have also noticed the advent of Makerspaces.   The Maker movement is akin to a 21 century do-it-yourself shop class. People use the new tools of the trade – Arduino motherboards, 3D printers, vinyl cutters, and soldering irons.  The Maker movement is about creating with technology- not just buying it. Makers make their own cameras, musical instruments, computer tablets, drones and artificial limbs. It is an exciting way of mastering and welding technology that puts the power of curiosity, ingenuity, and initiative into the hands of everyone who wants to create.

Makerspaces are springing up all over the place-even in k-12 and elementary schools.  At the National Association of Independent Schools annual conference, held last week in Boston, 25 schools from across the country submitted their school’s Maker Spaces to a gallery for all to observe (JCSDRI was one of them:  Check out the NAIS Makerspace website here:)

The newest related buzzword is Design Thinking.  Design Thinking is essentially a way of looking at needs, problems, and solutions by putting people and values first.  It is ‘human centered’ and based primarily on empathy. The first role of the Designer is to observe, ask questions, understand the user’s needs and values, and the ‘make.’  The key mindsets of Design Thinking are a bias towards action, people above products, radical collaboration, rapid prototyping, and failing fast forward. Design thinking is about ‘how’ we think, before addressing content or skills.

We at JCDSRI love the STEAM movement (click here to learn more about our amazing relationship with Brown/RISD STEAM) and the Maker movement, but we are proud that what we have created is a DESIGN Lab. Design starts with values, empathy, and understanding.  These core human skills – asking, listening, observing, and empathizing are part of our Jewish and educational mission.


Tags:  K12, education, design, STEM, STEAM, Brown, RISD, kinderSTEAM,