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How Science Competitions Can Drive Student Engagement

by Neil Finney

How Science Competitions Can Drive Student EngagementThere are so many ways of bringing your science lessons to life. As a subject, science should be modelled on discovery and exploration. As such, one of the most effective ways to capture student interest and solidify engagement is through the use of science challenges or competitions.

As a grade seven student, I remember my science teacher giving us design projects and distancing us from a text-focused approach to learning the subject. Of course, we needed the ‘big ideas’ and fundamental concepts to make sense of how to go forward in our designs and approaches to solve the “problem” and create a solution. But, his focus was on the process of immersing us in the science through a competition that acted as a learning environment, in which, our understanding of the material was tied directly to our experiences in the challenge. He made science fun and we excelled at the opportunity to design and build.


Here are some of the benefits to using science competitions:

1. Team Building and Cooperation – Working together as a team or pairs, students learn how to compromise, problem solve and build on each other’s strengths.

2. Planning and Goal Setting – By devising an approach to their design, students learn how to manage their time, share the workload and measure their success in meeting the competition’s expectations.

3. Use of Data and Tracking – In order to measure their progress and scientific results, students should collect, organize and interpret data from their testing and trials. Making adjustments to their design and altering their approach to the problem will help to reinforce the importance of meeting targets and goals.

4. Media Literacy Connection – When the competition has concluded, add a reporting element that asks students to present their designs and results. Through the use of a television interview, expert panel discussion or slide show presentation; students share their experiences to their peers and further consolidate their learning in a meaningful context.


Whether your class is learning about forces, structures, or living things – challenging them to use their scientific knowledge in a design task (such as a competition) will create a dynamic learning environment. A paper airplane competition, strongest bridge or mousetrap vehicle challenge all offer new ways of learning that connect their senses to the discovery of science concepts and ideas.


What are some examples of science competitions that you have used in your teaching? How might using technology to design a solution to a problem (e.g. a clean water filtration system) improve the success of your student’s learning?


NeilDuring Neilʼs 10 years of teaching experience, he has taught in London, England; Ontario; public and private schools; elementary and secondary; junior; intermediate; core french; developmental skills; and junior gifted (grades 4,5,6). He is a Reading Specialist that has been incorporating technology in his practice consistently throughout his career. Neil has recently published his first book entitled “Ignite. Incite. Inspire.” – Examining 21st Century Issues in Education, which is a collection of teaching articles and posts written from January to December 2011.


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  • Allan Schaber

    I have entered my students into a couple of science competitions, over the years, that were a huge success. These are the APEGA (Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta) Science Olympics and the science competition held by the former Calgary Science Centre, now called SPARK both here in Calgary.