Can STEM competitions motivate kids to be better?

Most parents already know they stand to gain a lot from exposing their children to STEM education early on. What many may not know is that competitions have become a significant part of the average kid’s STEM education journey.

The competitions here are not the classic science fairs you grew up admiring. When you think about 21st Century STEM competitions, you’ll be better off thinking in the direction of hackathons, robotics building contests, coding battles, and lots more.

Experts agree that these competitions have the potential to get students excited about the STEM fields more than any classroom ever would. It doesn’t even matter if it’s just a gathering of kids in the local county or some national championship. As long as there’s a problem to be solved and a price to be won, it’s an avenue for kids to have fun and learn

Zebra students finishing third in WRO Nationals

What makes STEM competitions so special?

The spirit of competition is one of those things we are all blessed with as children. But most of us tend to lose this competitive edge as we age. The good thing is, kids hardly ever have an ulterior motive when competing. For them, it’s merely about besting the other party while respecting the rules. And the childhood innocence that radiates during such competitions is a joy to behold.

More than the prize, however, kids also get to learn a whole lot from STEM competitions. This is owed to the fact that competitions provide a breath of fresh air. It takes kids away from the rigidity of classes and allows them to express themselves. While doing so, they also learn valuable skills like time management, communication, teamwork, abstract thinking, problem-solving, and so on.

How do we know this?, it is from working and experiencing with kids ourselves, over the last serveral years. As of Jan 2020, Zebra Robotics has fielded over 65 teams, both winning and ‘need-to-work-more’ experiences. The fact is , kids want to work and learn more when they participate in competitions and get new ideas for their robot design.

For STEM competitions to be effective, they should be less about the results and more about the process, just like any other educational endeavor for kids. Children should be taught that although winning is great, the journey is more important. That way, they have a better chance of imbibing the valuable lessons the competitions are set up to teach.