One method for inspiring achievement is competition. Many people enjoy earning prizes for winning contests, and this possibility can motivate high performance.
In science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, plenty of local, regional, and national contests exist to inspire high-achieving students. One of these nation-wide contests, the FIRST Robotics Competition, recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.
Other competitions are available in STEM areas. Here are five of the top nationwide STEM competitions for youth:
eCYBERMISSION is sponsored by the United States Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP). AEOP offers programs to inspire the next generation of innovators.
These programs include STEM enrichment activities, apprenticeships, scholarships and grants, and several competitions, including eCYBERMISSION. All of these programs promote STEM literacy, support STEM educators, and create a sustainable STEM education outreach infrastructure.
eCYBERMISSION is open to teams of 3-4 students in grades 6-9 that are led by a teacher or advisor. The student teams consist of children in the same grade from the same state, with the teams competing in either science or engineering.
In the science track, teams ask questions and provide explanations, while in the engineering track, teams define problems and design solutions. Both tracks base their projects in real-world issues faced by their own communities in the areas of alternative energy; environment; forces and motion; national security and safety; robotics; technology; and food, health, and fitness. Prizes include savings bonds in a variety of denominations depending on whether the award is at the state, regional, or national level.
ExploraVision has dual sponsorship. One sponsor is Toshiba through the Toshiba Corporation, the Toshiba America Group Companies, and the Toshiba America Foundation, all of which provide financial support. The Toshiba America Foundation has in total donated $12 million to various science and mathematics education initiatives in the United States.
Meanwhile, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) administratively sponsors ExploraVision. With a membership of 60,000, NSTA claims to be the largest organization in the world dedicated to science education.
Teams of 2-4 students in grades K-12 participate in ExploraVision to simulate research and development of various technologies. Each team is led by a teacher who helps the team imagine how a current technology might change over the next 20 years. Teams describe potential development steps, pros and cons of the changes, and obstacles that might be faced.
Entry into the competition is free. Prizes include savings bonds; all-expense paid trips to Washington, DC; and science/technology-related gifts for participants.
FutureCity is sponsored by DiscoverE, which was formerly known as the National Engineers Week Foundation. The aim of DiscoverE is to promote the engineering professions by providing resources, supporting diversity, and ensuring visibility.
DiscoverE provides outreach to K-12 education through volunteer efforts in initiatives such as Engineers Week, Introduce a Girl to Engineering, New Faces of Engineering, and Educator Recognition, along with the FutureCity competition.
Students in grades 6-8 compete in teams with the aim of imagining, researching, designing, and building cities of the future. Each city must address a sustainability issue, such as storm water management, urban agriculture, public spaces, or green energy. A different sustainability issue is assigned annually.
In addition to planning a design and building a city, the teams also write an essay and give a presentation. Prizes include round-trip transportation and hotel accommodations for regional winners who advance to the finals in Washington, DC.
4. Rube Goldberg Machine Contest
The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest is sponsored by Rube Goldberg, Inc. Rube Goldberg was an artist and inventor who was known for his cartoons depicting Rube Goldberg Machines, which solve a simple problem in a complicated way.
He lived from 1883-1970, earned an engineering degree from UC Berkeley, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his cartooning work. Rube Goldberg, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization devoted to maintaining the Rube Goldberg legacy through STEM education for all ages.
The contest occurs in both live and online formats. In the online format, teams build a Rube Goldberg Machine, video record the machine working, and submit the video along with a form for judging. In the live format, teams build a Rube Goldberg Machine, bring it to a competition site, and operate the machine alongside others.
Each year, machines accomplish an assigned task such as putting toothpaste on a toothbrush, inserting money into a piggy bank, or pouring a bowl of cereal. Students aged 8 through college years participate. Prizes include cash, free registration and subsequent years, and books about the cartoonist’s career and life.
5. Young Scientist Challenge
The Young Scientist Challenge has two sponsors. One is Discovery Education, a subsidiary of Discovery Inc., broadcaster of several television channels, including the Discovery Channel.
The other sponsor is 3M, a technology company that manufactures several product lines, including abrasives, adhesives, films, and filtration, just to name a few. Its products can be found in several industries, including automotive, communications, electronics, health care, and transportation, among others.
Students in grades 5-8 compete by submitting a 1- to 2-minute video describing a unique solution to an everyday problem. Thousands of students compete to be one of 10 annual finalists, each of whom receives a summer mentorship from 3M. The winner receives a $25,000 prize. Only individual entries are allowed, and they are judged on creativity, scientific knowledge, use of persuasion and communication skills, and overall presentation.