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Three Contests to Get Your Students Excited About STEM

Each year, more than 9 million students participate in science competitions big and small that challenge them to conduct research addressing some of science’s most pressing  questions, construct robots capable of performing complex tasks, and create software and hardware that address the everyday problems of people around the world. These competitions help reinforce students’ understanding of key science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts by linking what they learn in the classroom to real-world issues. They help students of all skill levels develop and test their ideas, think critically and creatively, collaborate effectively in teams, and sharpen their communication skills. Most importantly, they inspire students on their journeys of exploration and discovery and get them excited about their roles as future innovators.
As a recent Scientific American blog series highlighting youth science competitions explained, “we live in a time in which science competitions have pushed beyond [their] early boundaries, integrating technology and taking great strides to place young people into both the content and the challenges of real science.”  Recognizing the inherent curiosity of youth as an advantage in the sphere of innovation, corporations and public institutions are providing more meaningful opportunities for students to systematically explore new ideas for improving the world through research and design. In addition to the great hands-on experience they provide, many of these competitions offer impressive incentives for participation, including the chance to earn scholarships, spend time with experts in their chosen field, and travel internationally.
For a comprehensive listing of STEM competitions nationwide, check out STEMConnector’s competition directory. For now, here are three of our favorites:
•Google Science Fair: The Google Science Fair is an online science competition open to all students between the ages of 13 and 18 from anywhere in the world, working alone or in teams. Since it started in 2011, this competition has inspired bright young students from around the world to come up with truly amazing innovations like a flashlight powered by the heat of the user’s hand and a system that allows people with speech-impeding disabilities to communicate using just their breath. Top prizes include a suite it LEGO education products, a ten-day trip to the Galapagos Islands, and $50,000 in scholarship funding. The competition is teacher-friendly, offering a useful toolkit for inspiring students to get engaged—and a couple of cash prizes geared toward exceptional educators. The competition is open now and the deadline for submissions is May 19, 2015.

•Robots4Us Student Contest: DARPA, the Defense Department’s high-technology innovation agency, is posing a creative challenge to 9th-12th grade students across the country. The Robots4Us competition asks students to imagine how the proliferation of robots could change society and benefit people in their homes, businesses, and in the military, and share their visions in two- to three-minute videos. The videos should address the implications of advances in robotics for individuals, workplaces, communities, and national security. Five winners will be selected to attend the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals held on June 5-6, 2015 in Pomona, California. The competition opened on February 11 and the deadline for video entries is April 1, 2015.
•ImagineCup: Microsoft Imagine Cup is an annual competition that brings together young technologists worldwide for three main competitions—Games, Innovation, and World Citizenship—that require them to make an original technology project from start to finish. Together with their teams, students develop an idea, make a plan, and build a project, which can be software or a combination of software and hardware. First-place teams in the main competitions win $50,000 and all world finalist teams win a trip to Seattle. The qualifying rounds start in the fall, so students have plenty of time to gather a team and start brainstorming.
Are your students getting involved in any local or national STEM competitions? Tell us about them in the comments section below.