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Start your own online student competition

By Chad Mote, Yasmin Kafai and Quinn Burke 9/25/2015 Gamification STEM

Students are easy to get engaged. Many will watch videos and play games online all day long when given the chance. Getting them to create meaningful products rather than just mindlessly consuming, however, can sometimes be a challenge.

One way to inspire even the most reluctant creators is by tapping into their competitive and collaborative instincts. We have found that when you get students involved in a competition and give them virtual spaces where they can socialize while developing and sharing their own digital content, their intrinsic motivation goes through the roof.

Signing your students up for outside online competitions is an easy way to get them involved and inspired. But what if you can’t find just the right contest to support the learning happening in your classroom?

Start your own! It’s not as difficult as you might think, and making your students part of the process adds an extra layer of ownership and participation. All you need are a collaborative online community, leadership support, time and transparency to make it happen. 

Just follow these seven steps to create your own online student competition:

1. Get the support of your building-level leadership. 

Let them know what you are planning. Emphasize that this is new and exciting for everyone involved.

2. Outline the parameters of your competition. 

What ages are eligible to compete? Will you award any prizes? How will you assess the project? Will you have judges? A rubric? What is the topic or theme? What standards would you like to address? Make sure that the rules are easy for potential participants to access and understand. If you use a backward design process, your expectations will become clearer to both you and your students.

3. Come up with a time frame. 

We suggest that you allot at least a quarter, but preferably a semester or more, for students to complete their projects. Give them class time, but a goal is for them to get so invested in their projects that they want to work on them at home and/or in an after-school club.

4. Find an online community or space to showcase the projects to participants and the world. 

Depending on your firewall limits and the type of competition, you might use a blog, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube or TeacherTube, where students may comment on projects and cast their votes with “likes.”  Google Drive offers some useful tools for voting as well, such as Google Forms, and it lets you maintain a secure space for students if you want to limit your competition to the classroom or school. Another social tool that will also allow you to keep the contest secure and limited to your classroom or school is Edmodo.

More and more districts are employing learning management systems, such as MyBigCampus, that provide tools to ensure that students communicate positively.

If you are the adventurous type, consider some of the more advanced platforms for competitions, such as Strutta, Wizehive, Rafflecopter and PunchTab. These tools, which are used for promotional initiatives and competitive events in the marketing world, will also allow you to showcase your student competition across multiple social media channels.  

For programming contests, we love the Scratch website. Visit the Scratch Help page to find out how, and see what other educators are doing on ScratchEd.

5. Promote your event. 

When you market your competition, don’t limit it to just your students. Advertise to online communities, teachers and other students in your school and district. If you have a Facebook page, invite other educators in your network you think would be interested, and ask them to share the page with their networks. Send a link out on Twitter or Kik, and showcase photos and video through Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube or TeacherTube.

Go low-tech by posting flyers around your school, then repurpose the flyer graphics in a Pinterest post. Establish a hashtag and have your students post pics and videos of their works in progress on Twitter, YouTube or Instagram, and encourage outside contestants to do the same to build buzz.

If you decide to use Scratch, you can also promote your competition to the rest of the Scratch community. Just create a Studio (gallery) and begin advertising on the website. Get ideas and learn how to promote on the Scratch Discuss page. Post on the “New Scratchers” forum and encourage your students to do the same to become enculturated into the community.

6. Encourage students to reach out to the online community for feedback. 

Using your audience is key to producing high-quality projects. As your students begin working on their projects, require them to post updates on the class blog or whatever online community you are using. (If you are using the Scratch website, refer to the FAQ and the community guidelines.) Have them test other projects, post comments and be open to feedback from others. You are teaching them how to interact appropriately online and how to be part of the wisdom of the crowd.

7. Have fun! 

Your students will, so why shouldn’t you?

This is an updated version of an article that was published in the December/January 2013-14 issue of Learning & Leading with Technology magazine.

Chad Mote is an assistant principal at the Rockdale College and Career Academy. He completed his principal internship at the Science Leadership Academy and directed the creation of the first rural STEAM charter school in Georgia.

Yasmin Kafai is a professor of learning sciences and of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania. She was one of the original team members who developed and researched Scratch.

Quinn Burke is an assistant professor of educational technology at the College of Charleston, South Carolina, and a former high school teacher. He and Kafai are co-authors of the book Connected Code (MIT Press, 2014).
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