Diana Fingal
8 competitions to get your students fired up about STEM

Quick! How do you get students interested in STEM?

The answer, unfortunately, isn’t easy to pinpoint. With the exception of a small number of math, science and computer whizzes, most middle and high school students — particularly girls and underserved students — never even consider pursuing a STEM career.

Research shows, however, that when you show students a real-life application for their work, let them get hands-on and have them collaborate in teams, you can turn STEM avoiders into STEM lovers. Add a dash of competitive spirit, and you’ve got a surefire recipe for student engagement.

Competitions, says Sergei Lupashin, were the key to his ultimate success as a systems engineer and roboticist. “Everything in my life that has allowed engineering to actually work for me has [come out of] competitions,” Lupashin said during his EdTekTalk.

Lupashin — who now runs a company in Zurich that creates Fotokites, or personal drones for journalists and other professionals — credits student challenges like the RoboCup for much of what he learned during college.

The RoboCup, he explained, is a perfect example of a competition that teaches STEM principles in action. “If you take just a small part of that challenge — like the kickoff — it’s all about trig and geometry,” he said.

Another reason competitions are so attractive is that educators don’t need to develop them from scratch. The web is already full of STEM challenges for students in grades 6-12. All you have to do is choose one — or better yet, let the students choose — and sign them up.  

Here are just a few cool middle and high school STEM competitions we found:

Computer Science STEM Network competitions. The Computer Science-STEM Network (CS-STEM Network), a collaborative research project to increase the number of students pursuing advanced STEM degrees, hosts a variety of themed competitions for programming and robotics skills, with prizes!

eCybermission. This web-based STEM competition for 6-9 grade students invites teams to propose solutions to real problems in their communities for state, regional and national awards.

Google Science Fair. This online science competition invites middle and high school students from around the globe to come up with ideas that will change the world.

Imagine Cup. Students 16 and older are eligible to enter Microsoft’s global competition by creating an original technology project from start to finish in one of three categories: games, innovation and world citizenship. Winning teams in all three categories walk away with $100,000. 

Intel International Science & Engineering Fair. Dubbed the "world's largest international pre-college science competition," this contest showcases student independent research and offers and average of $4 million in prizes annually. Get inspired by checking out the database of winning projects.

Regeneron Science Talent Search. Billed as the “most prestigious science research competition for high school seniors” in the U.S., the Regeneron STS, hosted by the Society for Science & the Public, gives young scientists the chance to present their own original research to nationally recognized professional scientists.

Zero Robotics Tournaments. Middle and high school students write programs to control satellites in space. After several phases of virtual competition, finalists compete in a live championship aboard the International Space Station. An astronaut will conduct the championship in microgravity with a live broadcast!

NASA eClips Spotlites Video Design Challenge. Students create videos to debunk science misconceptions. From research, to script, to screen, students build their own understanding of science concepts through creative video representations. This is great project for teachers of digital media, science and English as an authentic, interdisciplinary task.

This is an updated version of a blog post published on Sept. 18, 2015. 

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