Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects are incredibly important for students to be involved in for a number of reasons beyond that of career opportunities and driving innovation. In a digital and rapidly advancing technological world, having a strong foundation in STEM subjects can help students go on to be critical thinkers and effective problem-solvers of real-world challenges.
So contests and competitions are a great way to not only benefit but also encourage students in STEM subjects. They can inspire students to pursue careers in STEM-related fields and challenge teachers and homeschool parents to take STEM education to the next level. Quality competitions provide students with hands-on practice and application of core STEM concepts they are studying and support project-based learning initiatives. Updated for the 2023 – 2024 school year, we’ve gathered a list of the top STEM competitions by age group to help you find the perfect opportunity for your students.
Before committing to entering any STEM competitions, consider the following criteria:
Curriculum Alignment – Does the competition directly support your curriculum and education standards? Do you have the classroom time to devote to working with students on their entries? If not, consider starting a school club dedicated to the project.
Cost – Many competitions cost nothing other than time, others require the purchase or donation of materials, and still others require travel and associated expenses. Determine your budget prior to selecting a competition to avoid student disappointment if funding is not available.
Timeline – Each competition will have a set competition timeline. In addition, some will require registration well before the submission deadline. Make sure the timeline works with your teaching schedule so students have ample time to complete quality projects.
Individual vs. Team – Science is collaborative and so are many STEM competitions. Decide if it is best for your students to compete individually, in small teams, or as a class, and then select a competition that fits those needs.
STEM Competitions for Multiple Age Groups
American Computer Science League
America Computer Science League – The ACSL challenges students in grades K – 12 to solve computer science and programming problems in this international competition divided into divisions by age group and computing experience. Now in its 46th year, over 8,000 students from the US, Canada, Europe, and Asia participate in multiple divisions to test fundamental concepts like Number Systems, Boolean Algebra, Digital Electronics, and more, using Python, C++, or Java, which makes it ideal for students of varying ages and abilities. The competition is also online.
VEX Robotics Competition get student teams designing and building robots in this popular game-based engineering competition. It’s split into Full Volume for students in grades 4-8, and Over Under for grades 6-12, with thousands of students participating in hundreds of competitions across local, regional, national, and world competition levels.
The competition is an ideal environment for honing skills through the Teamwork Challenge to maximize scores, Robot Skills Challenge where you race against the clock, and STEM Research Project where students use the scientific method to research and solve a challenge.
ExploraVision – The National Science Teachers Association and Toshiba ask small teams of K-12 students to envision what a current technology will look like in the future. The ExploraVision competition has refocused over the past several years to align with Next Generation Science Standards.
The format of the competition is great, because it teaches students academic methods for presenting information. For example, students are required to submit an Abstract, detailed description meeting the requirements of sub-categories, a Bibliography, and Sample Web Pages.
FIRST is the perfect competition if your students have an interest in robotics. With school teams and clubs worldwide, hundreds of thousands of students grades K-12 from countries all over the world participate annually in hands-on mentor-based robotics programs and competitions.
It’s split into different age groups, with grades Pre-K to 8th taking part in the LEGO league, grades 7-12 taking part in the Tech Challenge, while older students in grades 9-12 can participate in the Robotics Competition.
Founded in 1984, this time-tested competition remains as popular as ever. Science Olympiad competitions take place in all fifty states of the US and are open to students in grades 6 – 12. Tournaments focus on teamwork and consist of standards-based challenges. Become part of the 6,000 teams today by checking out the 2024 rules.
American Rocketry Challenge
What won’t students love about building rockets? Packet with a host of STEM skills, this competition is the perfect opportunity to get students excited to improve their designs and excel. The America Rocketry Challenge is open to middle and high school students, who take part in designing, building, and flying rockets complete with “astronaut” eggs. What’s great about this competition is that categories extend beyond just building a rocket, with Marketing Competitions and Presentation Competitions also honing valuable skills needed in STEM fields. With over 5,000 students participating in previous years, it’s proof that this competition is wildly fun and rewarding ($100,000 in prizes doesn’t hurt either!).
Technology Student Association
The TSA is all about developing leadership and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and one of the mechanisms they achieve this is through competitions. They have a whole host to browse, depending on age and grade and the format varies to span hands-on design challenges, multiple choice questions, and an essay based around an annual theme. For example this year’s high school division offers Engineering Design, Technology Problem-solving, and Video Game Design. Check out the TSA website for more information.
EngineerGirl Essay Content – Each fall the site posts an engineering-related prompt for students grades 3 – 12 to write about. Despite the name, the content is open to all students in grades 3 – 12, not just girls! This year, the prompt is to write about the lifecycle of an object that you use in your daily life. Submissions close in Feb 2024, so best get your pen to paper if you want to enter this one!
The THINK Challenges, organized by a group of undergraduates from MIT, offer an exciting platform for high school students engaged in the early stages of original research projects. The competition, unfortunately, had closed its registration for 2023, but anticipation builds for the 2024 details, which are yet to be announced and are expected to open in November 2023. The application process is conveniently conducted online. Typically, selected finalists are granted a remarkable opportunity—a 4-day, all-expenses-paid trip to MIT’s campus. During this immersive experience, finalists engage with professors in their respective research fields, tour cutting-edge labs, and network with members of the THINK team. Moreover, finalists benefit from weekly mentorship meetings and receive a $1000 grant to support their ongoing research projects.
Future City is a competition aimed at encouraging students to think about and solve real-world problems using cross-curricular skills to bring STEM to life! With climate change and sustainability being at the center of attention, and a point of anxiety for many youth, the competition hinges on a single question: “How can we make the world a better place?” This year’s theme is to conceptualise and design a 100% electrically powered city with energy generated from green sources.
Students participate from all over the world and barriers to entry are low, with the entire program able to be completed for less than $100.
Kids love games, so why not put them in the driver’s seat and have them create a card or board game? With Game-a-thon, cards, dice, and board games make for creative, hands-on learning. In this competition, students create games based on math concepts and submit videos of their games in action. The website was loads of examples from previous years for inspiration.
Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS)
The Regeneron Science Talent Search, the nation’s oldest and most esteemed science competition, invites high school seniors to participate in a unique and prestigious opportunity. To enter, students must undertake an original independent research project, supplementing their applications with recommendation letters and transcripts. Notably, 13 alumni of this competition have gone on to win the Nobel Prize—an impressive testament to its caliber. Open to any senior-year high school student, the application period for the 2024 competition spans from June 1 to November 8, 2023. The Top 40 finalists, announced in January 2024, earn an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for in-depth judging during Regeneron STS Finals Week, taking place from March 6 to 13, 2024. With over $2 million in awards, including a first-place prize of $250,000, this competition not only recognizes exceptional talent but also provides a platform for young scientists to showcase their groundbreaking work.
Other Competitions of Interest
American Geosciences Institute Contests – In honor of October’s Earth Science Week, the AGI offers several annual contests for kids that celebrate Earth through visual arts, a nice option to support STEAM curriculums.
MOEMS – This Math Olympiad for students in grades 4 – 8, allows students to compete in teams of up to 35 via an online monthly math test.
STEM Competitions for Middle School Students
Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge – In this competition, students in grades 5 – 8 create videos on unique solutions to everyday problems. Multiple levels of prizes are given, including a $25,000 grand prize.
MATHCOUNTS – Each four-student middle school team creates a video that teaches the solution to and a real-world application of a math problem selected from the MATHCOUNT’s handbook. MATHCOUNTS also offers “bee” style competitions and club programs.
eCYBERMISSION – This web-based competition, sponsored by the U.S. Army, is for teams of students in grades 6 – 9 and focuses on real-life applications of STEM.
STEM Competitions for High School Students
SourceAmerica Design Challenge – High school students innovate workplace technologies that diminish obstacles standing between people with disabilities and employment opportunities.
Google Science Fair – Students 13-18 perform in-depth investigations of real-world problems in this competition that awards many prizes in different age categories.
Imagine Cup – Microsoft’s Imagine Cup challenges high school students worldwide to create software applications that help resolve some of the world’s most challenging problems.
Mathworks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge – A free, internet-based math challenge for juniors and seniors that addresses a real-world problem. The competition offers numerous scholarships to top-placing teams.
Clean Tech Competition – Individuals and small student groups research, design, and produce papers around a real-world environmental theme that integrates eco-friendly energy sources.
Regeneron Science Talent Search – Billed as the oldest U.S. science and math competition, this one is limited to high school seniors who submit original science research. The top 300 entries earn cash prizes and finalists will go on to compete for $250,000.
Math Prize for Girls – This is a competitive math prize for high school girls, held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology each fall. Only 300 students will be selected to compete and applicants must take an American Mathematics Competition exam prior to applying for this competition.
This is just a sampling of the many STEM competitions available. Many students also participate in local and regional science fairs that allow students to conduct and present authentic research and potentially compete at the national level in competitions like the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and Broadcom MASTERS. However, most students will not win a national competition, so before entering students in a competition, consider the intrinsic value of participation. Look for well-organized competitions that offer clearly defined rules and judging criteria, as well as constructive feedback for all participants.
Remember to check out Help Teaching’s collection of science worksheets and online lessons to support your science teaching needs. If you enjoyed reading this article, try our Ultimate Guide to Teaching Science.
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