On this page:
Category: In class learning, out of school learning
Suitable ages: Primary and secondary
STEM competitions can excite students about STEM learning and challenge students to stretch their skills and knowledge. Students are usually presented with a task or challenge to work on individually or in groups. They submit their work for assessment by judges either in person or online.
STEM competitions are supported and run by industry, non-profit organisations, governments and universities. They are often free to enter. Some competitions are linked to the school curriculum. In other cases, they are designed to extend thinking beyond the curriculum. STEM competitions can be either an in class or out of school activity. Examples include:
- Young ICT Explorers competition (Years 3-12)
- Spaghetti Bridge Competition by the Engineering Link Group (Years 7-12), based in Queensland.
- Reengineering Australia Foundation’s F1 in Schools, 4x4 in Schools and Subs in Schools challenges.
- Web.Comp, an online web design and development competition by Grok Learning
|Foster STEM-related creativity, problem-solving and collaboration skills||Some forms of competition can create anxiety and fear of failure, and can harm self-esteem. Tip: Emphasise learning and exploration rather than winning or losing.|
|Improve awareness of STEM careers|
|Competitive environment can be motivating|
|Can especially challenge high-achieving students to extend their skills and knowledge|
There is evidence that this initiative type has a positive impact on student STEM engagement or achievement.
Research has found that participating in competitions can improve students’ interest in STEM careers and achievement in maths and science.
- The influence of students’ participation in STEM competitions on their interest in STEM careers by Kelly Miller, Gerhard Sonnert and Philip Sadler. This US study on 15,000 students found that those who participated in STEM competitions in school were more likely to be interested in a STEM-related career upon finishing high school. The study controlled for prior career interest in STEM. The effect was stronger for those who participated in more than one STEM competition.
- Assessing the Impact of an Autonomous Robotics Competition for STEM Education by CJ ChanJin Chung, Christopher Cartwright and Matthew Cole. This US study found that participation in the robotics competition Robofest led to improved performance in maths and science.
- Reengineering Australia Foundation reports that 86% of teachers said participating in REA’s STEM challenge programs has influenced the way their school engages in STEM. 70% of participating students said they were motivated to follow a STEM career path.
It is usually easier to join an existing STEM competition than to start a new one. Many competitions are free and online, so costs can be low. There may be equipment costs for competitions that involve physical design.
- Use the STARportal to search for STEM competitions that match your needs.
- Decide whether participation will be in class or extracurricular.
- Focus on participation and learning more than winning and losing, so as not to stimulate anxiety and fear of failure. See Chapter 18: Examining the Use of Competition in the Classroom from Transformative Classroom Management, by John Shindler.
There are several ways that businesses can support STEM education through competitions.
- Provide funding or resources to support established STEM competitions. The STARportal has information on dozens of existing competitions.
- Include a STEM competition, for example a project judged by company employees, in a school-business partnership.
- Create a new STEM competition open to entry by many schools in a region or nation-wide.
Case study: Young ICT Explorers
Created by enterprise software company SAP, Young ICT Explorers is an annual technology-based competition for Australian school students from Year 3 to Year 12. In groups of one to four, students are invited to create a digital technology-related project of their choice. The competition is free to enter and aligns with the school curriculum in ICT and Digital Technologies. Shortlisted teams are invited to present their projects to expert judges in major cities or via Skype. Recent winners include a UV-sensing sunscreen dispenser, a voice activated virtual librarian, and a game that simulates the world from the perspective of a person with Aspergers.