Making It Happen: Academic Competitions and Contests
The beginning of the school year is a perfect time to start thinking about activities that inspire students throughout the year. Some activities I focus on early are academic competitions. My students love a challenge, especially when it gives them the opportunity to demonstrate how intelligent they are. Academic competitions provide students with the chance to refine skills and develop new ones. Join me as I address a few math and science competitions that require pre-planning and provide a challenge for everyone.
I will be dividing this post into two parts. Focusing on a few outstanding science competitions this week, and addressing some impressive math competitions in next week’s post. I’m including links and some things to consider when planning on mentoring or sponsoring an academic team.
I love science. I really do, so last year when I had a student create a robotic arm one weekend (just for fun) I realized that I needed to give him a little more. The “more” I gave him turned out to be our school’s first competitive robotic team. After doing some research, I found a hub for a national robotics competition called BEST (boosting engineering science and technology) for middle and high school students where teams designed and built a robot that had to complete a task while competing against other teams. Teams were also judged on a booth and table display, oral presentation, webpage design, engineering notebook, sportsmanship, and fundraising. This six week competition changed, no transformed, our lives. It was incredible.
Now I know that you may be thinking that sponsoring or mentoring some sort of science type team will be too time consuming, and you’re right. My first bit of advice is to enlist the help of other teachers or parents to make the job a bit more manageable. I was fortunate to have a colleague, Kristy Mall, join me in sponsoring the team. Having her on board made all the difference. We also had three totally committed parents that showed up for every meeting or practice. They too were invaluable. Even after 6 months had passed we still had students mention BEST on a weekly basis. Even as I type this I have parents and students from last year wanting to know if they can come back and compete with this year’s team. So without further adieu, here are some things to consider when sponsoring a competitive team:
- Poll your students-
Determine student interest before you go to the trouble of organizing a team and locating sponsors to help.
2. Plan early-
Many academic contests and competitions have early deadlines for registering.
- Support of your administrator-
This one is crucial if you want the endeavor to be a success. Generally, anything that is going to benefit the students and the school’s image is a plus in any principal’s book.
- Community resources-
Find local professionals that specialize in the area of the competition to mentor the students. Think community colleges, local universities, and businesses.
- Designated area-
I found that having access to an empty classroom or an area in the school that is large enough to store items and host the practices or work sessions helps tremendously (having the principal on board helps with this one too).
- Divide and conquer-
Split the work sessions into manageable chunks. We divide our team into small groups that meet individually. The entire team does meet less frequently to inform one another of what’s going on; however, from a management stand point smaller is better.
- Rules and guidelines-
Not only for behavior, but for having a truly invested team, there must be guidelines and rules set in place before the first team meeting. The success of the team depends on everyone being on the same playing field.
Here are some possible science-based contests and competitions for middle and high school students:
middle and high school
First Lego League (FLL)
National Science Decathlon
West Point Bridge Design
middle and high school students
Future City Competition
Check back next week for Part II which will have tips and information concerning math contests and competitions for middle grade students.
Here’s to a great week-