Have you ever wondered how your students really benefit from watching baking soda and vinegar erupt from their makeshift volcano at the science fair? Besides the eruption of “oohs” and “aahs” that soon follows, research shows that academic competitions provide many unique benefits to participants.

For example, academic competitions challenge students in ways not attainable in a traditional classroom setting and are great resume boosters for looming college admissions. They also drive student motivation and self-development, provide real-world examples, and allow students to interact with role models and peers.

There are different types of STEM competitions available for students, and I’ve outlined three popular competition options below.

Also, be sure to check out my free STEM competition finder that contains over 100 options for your students to get involved in, spanning STEM disciplines and age levels.

Science Fairs

A science fair is the most traditional style of academic competition besides a spelling bee. Students typically research a problem of interest and present their experiment findings to teacher or parent audiences in their community. We’ve all seen the classic example of an overflowing homemade volcano! A science fair is easy to host in the school’s gymnasium or cafeteria, allowing it to engage a wide range of your student population.

For some students, it might be appropriate to look for science fairs outside of school. There are national (and international!) science fairs that students can submit their research to. For example, the Broadcom MASTERS offers engineering and science fairs to top middle school students to compete at a national level. The Google Science Fair is open to all students throughout the world between the ages of 13 and 18. If your school hosts a science fair, you can consider nominating top projects for more competitive fairs that happen outside of school.

STEM Advocate explaining to STEM Student

Individual Competitions

Individual STEM competitions differ from traditional science fairs. For example, the High School Physics Photo Contest allows individual students to submit photographs demonstrating examples of physics in the real-world. Some competitions like the PhysicsBowl and the American Mathematics Competition offer examinations that lead to prizes or invitations to other competitions.

STEM Student in Group Competition

Team Competitions

Many STEM competitions allow groups of students to compete with other teams. There are so many team competitions across STEM disciplines from math to robotics and everything in between! It’s also easy to find a competition that suits the size of your team.

The Math Olympiads for Elementary and Middle School accommodates teams of up to 35 students while smaller team opportunities like SeaPerch, an international competition where students build their own underwater remote-controlled vehicle, call for teams of three to five students. The SeaPerch competition, like many others, has a regional event that qualifies top performing teams for a larger, more competitive challenge.

Many student teams engage in fundraising activities to cover the cost of transportation and supplies, especially if they move on from a regional to a national competition. Additionally, you will need to consider who in your community is available to coach, mentor, and chaperone since these competitions occur off school grounds. You may want to reach out to your PTA for support in funding or staffing these types of competitions.

Small Team of STEM Students

Getting Started

The best way to get started is to know what your options are. We’ve created a free competition finder that allows you filter by the grade level that you teach and a STEM discipline. Use this tool to find your next competition today!