Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) contests and competitions benefit students in many ways. 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 2018 – 2019 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
America Computer Science League – The ACSL challenges students in grades 3 – 12 to solve computer science and programming problems in this international competition divided into division by age group and computing experience.
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.
FIRST – With school teams and clubs worldwide, hundreds of thousands of students grades K-12 participate annually in FIRST’s hands-on robotics programs and competitions.
NASA Ames Space Settlement Contest – K-12 students design permanent orbital settlements. There are contest categories for students in each grade 6 – 12 and for individuals, small groups, and large groups.
National Science Bowl – Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Bowl challenges middle and high school students to face-off in a question-style science and math contest.
Science Olympiad – With competitions in all fifty states, the Science Olympiad is one of the best-established STEM competitions around for students in grades 6 – 12. Tournaments focus on teamwork and consist of standards-based challenges.
Team America Rocketry Challenge – Middle and high school students take part in designing, building, and flying rockets complete with “astronaut” eggs.
TEAMS – Middle and high school teams of four to eight students contend in this engineering-based competition that involves hands-on design challenges, multiple choice questions, and an essay based around an annual theme.
National Science Bee – This bee-styled tournament for elementary and middle school students covers science, math, and engineering topics and culminates in a national championship.
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!
Game-a-thon – From cards, to dice, to board games, 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.
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.
VEX Robotics Competition – Get student teams designing and building robots in this popular game-based engineering competition.
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.
Future City Competition – Middle school student teams use the engineering design process to create a city 100 years in the future that solves a sustainability issue. Competition elements include virtual city design, physical model construction, essay, and a presentation.
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.