Spring STEM Events

There are lots of opportunities for students to get involved with extracurricular STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)-related competitions this spring. Science and engineering Fairs; robotic competitions; inventor competitions; technology education competitions; engineering expos offer students of all levels the opportunity to explore a STEM topic that interests them in a creative way; use logical thinking; practice their verbal presentation skills, and integrate what they learn in many of their courses in a “capstone” project. In today’s pedagogical lingo, these kinds of activities are categorized as problem-based or project-based learning (PBL), anchored instruction, or collaborative learning.

Sometimes this approach is used in classrooms as illustrated in many of Florida’s Career Academies, but it is certainly the approach of most of extra curricula competitions. Some schools and school districts take a very formal approach to some of these competitions by offering clubs and other after school opportunities to help students prepare for the whole experience. On the other extreme, some districts and schools require no participation or support. Some question if these should be part of academic curriculum – but wonder where it would fit into the curriculum; who would be credentialed to teach it; and if and how it would support state standardized testing.

At the post-secondary level—the theme continues, but the stakes are higher. High profile engineering challenges and invention competitions sponsored by industry and professional societies ratchet up the competition as well as complexity. Some provide significant prizes for winning teams. Designing, building and racing alternative fuel (including human) powered vehicles; designing and building energy independent homes; concrete canoes and toboggans; medical devices etc bring the same problem-based learning approach, extracurricular activities to most college campuses. Opportunities for students to develop critical and creative thinking, knowledge integration, and team-building skills make these projects very popular among students, faculty and industry partners. There has also been interest these activities into academic credit courses so students can get credit for the time they put in. There are obstacles and disadvantages at the college level, as well as advantages to making these activities part of the formal education system and it will be interesting to follow the trend.

Competitions and expos have grown into fun and educational community events. There are a lot of ways to participate in the K-12 level competitions and expos. Teams and individual students need mentors, all of these events only exist with large numbers of volunteers and volunteer hours, and the competitions need judges and sponsors. Volunteering is a great way to help students get excited about STEM and have some fun. Here are a list of state level competitions and websites to check for more details. Some of these sites have links to local/regional competitions that occur before the state events and national events that generally occur in early summer. There are many other student competitions that extend beyond what is listed here, but are generally supported and hosted by
professional societies that can be contacted directly. There are even some online/virtual “design and invent” competitions that also require mentors and judges that can be done virtually if you prefer, or are limited to that communication vehicle. We encourage you to get involved and support the event(s) of your choice for a rewarding STEM spring in 2012.

For more information contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org, or visit http://www.fl-ate.org/.

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