Today was our first ever spring STEM Competition, and it rocked! I’m writing this now, exhausted from all the work that went into it, but happy with how the day went, and with our students’ experience.
This is the third STEM Competition we have held, previous ones being in November 2008 and November 2009. But this is the first time we’ve held it in the spring season, and as such we planned for outdoor events. The overall structure of a STEM Competition at our school is as follows: A brief orientation to the events and schedule, followed by teams of students rotating among six science, math, or engineering events. After all teams have completed all six events, we gather together for lunch, during which scores are tallied. Finally we hold an awards ceremony, with trophies for each student on the top three ranked teams, and certificates of participation for all. Here is the letter we sent faculty explaining an earlier STEM Competition in more detail and asking for help judging events.
The annual (or in this case, even more frequent) STEM Competition is one of the things I am most proud of during my time as a teacher so far. Although organizing it, creating/selecting events, convincing teachers and engineers to help as judges, gathering the materials needed, creating easy-to-score rubrics for the events, getting trophies and food, creating certificates, setting up tables & equipment, then running the day is all a lot of work, it is worth it to give students hands-on experience to apply their math, science, and engineering skills! The students love it, and not just because we feed them :^) They remember the last competition and look forward to the next one. They learn a lot from the events, sometimes without even knowing they’re learning. Other students see it and are attracted to the goings on, so the STEM Competition is also a good recruitment tool!
We decided to organize one this spring for a few reasons. One was just to be able to hold it outside! To that end, we were hoping and praying for nice weather this whole week. And, indeed, the rain held off ’til 5:30 this afternoon, giving us beautiful–though hot–sunny weather this morning during the events. A second reason was to encourage multi-class-year interactions. Often, our seniors in the engineering program don’t know the juniors in the program, who don’t know the sophomores, etc. So, as much as we could, we arranged for the teams competing today to be composed of a junior, a sophomore, and a 9th-grader each. A third reason is that we wanted to end the year with a bang instead of a whimper! Today was the penultimate day of classes, before final exams next week. Student attendance and motivation are low, due to the hot weather, and due to the fact that the big-deal high-stakes state standardized tests (the HSA’s) that many classes have been pushing toward all year are over. Instead of just letting everything wind down, we decided to ramp it up with a final push toward STEM. We instituted an attendance requirement for competitors, over the two weeks leading up to the competition. And we kept them excited leading up to the event: choosing multi-age teams, registering, and just talking about the upcoming event. Hopefully, the excitement from today will carry over through the summer too, and students will come back in late August raring to go and eagerly anticipating the next (November) competition!
Anyway, for your reading pleasure, here are the six events from today:
STEM_ Annual Challenge JUNE 2010 Final