STEM Competitions & Challenges to Engage Students


STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning is essential to a student’s education. As educators and school administrators, it is our job to find innovative, engaging ways to introduce students to STEM concepts. Because of the nature of STEM subjects, these lessons are often hands-on and connect to real-world examples. An effective way to facilitate STEM in the classroom is through competitions and challenges. This activity-based approach to STEM learning gets students invested, helps them see why it is essential, and allows them to practice incorporating what they have learned into new scenarios. This article outlines the benefits and logistics of incorporating STEM competitions and challenges in the classroom.

The Educational Impact of STEM Competitions

STEM competitions serve as an educational tool that increases student motivation, performance, and problem-solving skills. These competitions, when conducted properly, create a dynamic learning environment that encourages students to think critically about what they are learning to strengthen their problem-solving skills. The competitive nature of this learning approach is an effective way to motivate students to give their full effort toward the STEM lesson. 

Aside from heightened motivation, STEM competitions benefit educators and school administrators by providing a flexible platform for customizing their STEM lesson plans. The structure of these competitions can be redesigned and adjusted frequently to focus on different STEM concepts. By making each STEM competition unique, student engagement will stay high by continuing to apply their knowledge to a variety of different STEM concepts and real-world applications. STEM competitions teach students the real-world application of STEM skills and provide an environment to exercise 21st-century skills – both of which are essential skills in the workforce.

Top STEM Competitions and Challenges

There are a variety of different nationally and internationally recognized STEM competitions and challenges for students. Below is a list of some established STEM competitions and challenges that educators and school administrators can leverage and facilitate with students. 

  1. FIRST® Tech Challenge: In this global robotics competition, teams of students work together to design, build, and program a robot that can perform specific tasks. This competition improves students’ coding, problem-solving, and collaboration skills. It is also a great opportunity for students to meet others with a similar passion for STEM. 
  2. Regeneron Science Talent Search: Regeneron Society for Science (STS) provides students with the opportunity to present their research to nationally recognized professional scientists. This STEM competition promotes innovative thinking and real-world application of STEM skills.
  3. Quest Track Modeling the Future Challenges: The Model the Future Challenges integrates math modeling, data analysis, and risk-management skills into a STEM competition. During this competition, students utilize real-world data to analyze risks and provide recommendations to various entities, such as companies, industry groups, governments, or organizations.
  4. VEX Robotics Competition: VEX Robotics allows students to design and build innovative robots and compete against robots created by other participants. This competition gives students a platform to exercise their STEM skills, such as coding, in a real-world environment.  
  5. Intel International Science and Engineering Fair: As one of the world’s largest science competitions, ISEF encourages students to tackle challenging scientific problems in new ways. This large-scale STEM competition gives students the platform to address and solve real-world problems using their scientific knowledge. 
  6. Imagine Cup: Imagine Cup is a technology competition hosted by Microsoft. This competition allows students to exercise their STEM skills and connect what they know to real-world situations. The STEM competition is also a great way for students to meet successful individuals in the STEM workforce who can act as mentors throughout their education and future careers.

How to Prepare Your Students for STEM Competitions

Preparing students for STEM competitions involves more than just improving their STEM literacy. It also requires creating a positive learning environment that fosters a competitive spirit, teaches practical problem-solving techniques, encourages teamwork and collaboration, and provides resources for independent learning and research.

  1. Fostering an environment that celebrates learning and innovation: Encourage students to view competitions as learning opportunities rather than just contests to win. It is essential to emphasize the importance of teamwork, collaboration, and respectful competition – which are lessons that connect to every aspect of their lives! 
  2. Develop and Strengthen Problem-Solving Skills: Ensure your students have a firm understanding of the scientific method. Encourage them to approach challenges systematically, breaking down complex problems into manageable tasks. Provide them with resources that cater to different learning styles, and promote independent research and critical thinking.
  3. Create a Fun and Exciting Learning Experience: While STEM competitions can be challenging, they should also be enjoyable. Celebrate milestones, appreciate their effort, and keep the learning experience engaging. Make it fun for you and your students!

Building a Supportive Environment for STEM Competitions

To create a supportive environment for STEM competitions, educators and school administrators have to prepare beyond academic preparation. While academic preparation and STEM literacy are important, it is equally essential to create an environment where students feel they can take risks and push themselves mentally. Here is a list of ways to create a supportive STEM environment in your school and classroom. 

  • Create a culture that values effort, innovation, and perseverance.
  • Celebrate not just the wins, but the participation and effort. 
  • Build a collaborative environment that promotes teamwork. 
  • Provide access to mentorship programs. 
  • Provide constructive feedback, encourage resilience in the face of setbacks, and always support their learning journey.

Resources for STEM Competitions and Challenges

It can be difficult to see how STEM competitions and challenges integrate into your classroom curriculum. There are a variety of resources for teachers and school administrators looking to add STEM competitions into their curriculum at the classroom, school, or district level. Below is a list of some of the many resources that can be used to help implement STEM competitions with students. 

  1. National Science Teaching Association: This website offers resources and educational tools teachers can use to further their understanding of STEM competitions. It also includes links to upcoming competitions they are hosting or involved in that may align with the skillset and grade band of your students. 
  2. Science Buddies: Science Buddies is an online resource that provides ideas for STEM competitions and challenges that can be implemented in the classroom. 
  3. Khan Academy: The Khan Academy YouTube has a wide variety of educational tools that can be leveraged by educators and school administrators to better understand the current STEM landscape. 
  4. STEM Sports®: STEM Sports® is an education company that provides STEM curricula that uses sports to facilitate STEM learning. The hands-on nature of this curriculum makes it a great tool to implement STEM competitions or challenges in the classroom or during after-school programs. 

Dive into STEM Competitions and Challenges with STEM Sports

In a world that is increasingly reliant on STEM-based skills, equipping children with a robust understanding of STEM is more important than ever. At STEM Sports®, we are committed to creating a quality STEM curriculum that helps improve student STEM literacy and their ability to connect what they learn to the real world. We do this through a sports-based STEM curriculum, which means each lesson connects to a real-world sports example. 

Each curriculum uses a different sport to facilitate hands-on STEM lessons that provide insight into why STEM concepts matter and how each can be used in everyday life. For example, STEM Golf links principles of engineering and science in the context of golf – introducing students to the science behind the swing.

Visit our website to explore our curriculum and learn more about how our approach to STEM learning can help integrate STEM competitions in the classroom. 

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