Top 20 science / STEM contests for kids

CLICK HERE for updated 2014-2015 listings

‘Tis the season to plan your participation in science contests and competitions for kids in the 2013-14 academic year. ScienceThrillers.com is proud to compile this list of the year’s top science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competitions. Please share, tweet, re-post this list to parents, educators, potential sponsors and judges.

Encourage–heck, force–your kid to participate the same way you’d push for attendance at that out-of-town soccer game. Help your niece, nephew, grandchild, or the neighbor kid complete a science project. Volunteer to work at your local science fair; if you’re a scientist, technician, or engineer, volunteer to be a judge or mentor a team at your neighborhood school. Make a donation or sponsor a special award. Get involved to support STEM education!

Not your standard science fair:

2014_Kavli_Science_Video_Contest_Science_in_Fiction

1. The Kavli Science Video Contest: Event held in conjunction with the biennial USA Science and Engineering Festival. Theme: (ooo, here at ScienceThrillers.com we love this) science in fiction. Create a 30-90 second video about how science is portrayed in TV, films, and games.

  • Open to grades 6-12, US and international students
  • Entry period: Nov. 1, 2013 to March 21, 2014
  • First prize: $2,000

2. The DuPont Challenge: Every kid with access to a computer should enter this one.

  • Science writing contest (700-1000 words on the science topic of your choice in broad categories of food, energy, environment, and innovation)
  • Grades 7-12 (junior & senior divisions) students in U.S. and Canada
  • Prizes: expenses-paid trip to Walt Disney World & the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, plus thousands of dollars
  • Online entries were accepted November 15, 2013-January 31, 2014


3. Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge: Deadline for abstract entry is October 24, 2013. Accepted abstracts will be invited to submit full proposal.

  •  Team event, ages 13-18. Challenges high school students to create innovative new commercial products using STEM. Open to students worldwide.
  • Challenge: conceptualize a solution in one of these areas: aerospace & aviation; energy & environment; cybersecurity & technology; health & nutrition
  • First, register and develop your idea. Submit a one page proposal by October 24. If your idea makes the next round, the stakes go up with a technical concept report, business plan and graphic visualization. Five finalists invited to the Innovation Summit at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, a one-of-a-kind opportunity where they have chance to win $10,000 in seed money to develop their product or service

4. US FIRST Robotics & Tech Programs: World-wide eligibility. You’ve probably seen winners of these competitions featured in the media.

  • Jr. FIRST Lego League: For kids ages 6-9. Team event. Event season is now until April 2014. Learn about this year’s challenge (Natural Disasters) and use LEGOs to build a simple machine around this topic.
  • FIRST Lego League: For kids ages 9-14 (grades 4-8). Team event. Season starts in the fall. Design, build, program, test robots using LEGO Mindstorms technology.
  • FIRST Tech Challenge: For grades 7-12. Big scholarship prizes at stake.

For students who want to compete head to head using a sports model. Teams of up to 10 students are responsible for designing, building, and programming their robots to compete on a 12 X 12’ field in an Alliance format against other teams. Robots are built using a TETRIX® platform that is reusable from year-to-year using a variety of languages. Teams, including Coaches, Mentors, and Volunteers, are required to develop strategy and build robots based on sound engineering principles. Awards are given for the competition as well as community outreach, design, and other real-world accomplishments.

A varsity Sport for the Mind,™ FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Under strict rules, limited resources, and time limits, teams of 25 students or more are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program a robot to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors. It’s as close to “real world” engineering as a student can get. Professional Mentors volunteer their time and talents to guide each team.

5. 2014 3M/Discovery Young Scientist Challenge

  • U.S. students in grades 5-8
  • To enter, students need to submit a 1-2 minute video which describes a new innovation or solution that could solve or impact an everyday problem related to: [1] the way we move; [2] the way we keep ourselves healthy; or [3] the way we make a difference. {These topics may change for this year’s Challenge.}
  • Ten finalists will be mentored by 3M scientists and win a trip to 3M headquarters in Minnesota
  • First place wins $25,000. All finalists win a Discovery Student Adventures trip
  • Contest entries accepted December to April

6. Team American Rocketry Challenge: Teams design, build and fly a model rocket that reaches a specific altitude and duration determined by a set of rules developed each year. The contest is designed to encourage students to study math and science and pursue careers in aerospace.

The top 100 teams, based on local qualification flights, are invited to Washington, DC in May for the national finals. Prizes include $60,000 in cash and scholarships split between the top 10 finishers. NASA invites top teams to participate in their Student Launch Initiative, an advanced rocketry program. AIA member companies, such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have sponsored additional prizes such as scholarship money and a trip to an international air show.

  • Teams of 3-10 students in grades 7-12
  • Open to first 1000 teams to enter between Sept. 2, 2013 and Dec. 1, 2013

7. eCyberMission: is a web-based STEM competition free for students in grades 6 through 9 sponsored by the U.S. Army. Teams can compete for state, regional and national awards while working to solve problems in their community.

  • Registration deadline: Jan. 15, 2014 but open now
  • 3 or 4 student members from the same state with an adult team advisor
  • Team chooses one category of “mission challenge”, asks a question, and tests it using scientific method
  • 1/5 of final score is based on project’s potential benefit to the community
  • Virtual judges also needed. Can you volunteer?

8. Science Olympiad: School-based teams of 15 students in grades 6-12 who prepare, coach, and practice throughout the year. There is also an elementary division for K-6 teams.

9. The Tech Challenge: This is an awesome program with tons of support (workshops and clinics throughout the preparation process) but everything is at The Tech Museum of Innovation in Silicon Valley (San Jose, CA) so contest is effectively restricted to Bay Area teams.

  • The Tech Challenge is an annual team design challenge for students in grades 5-12 that introduces and reinforces the science and engineering design process with a hands-on project geared to solving a real-world problem.
  • Teams of 2-6 people compete in three divisions: Elementary (grades 5-6), Middle (grades 7-8), High (grades 9-12)
  • Event Day is Saturday, April 12-13, 2014 at the Tech Museum.
  • This year’s challenge: variant on the classic egg drop

Math & Technology competitions:

10. Future City: “The Future City Competition is a national, project-based learning experience where students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade imagine, design, and build cities of the future. Students work as a team with an educator and engineer mentor to plan cities using SimCity™ 4 Deluxe software; research and write solutions to an engineering problem; build tabletop scale models with recycled materials; and present their ideas before judges at Regional Competitions in January. Regional winners represent their region at the National Finals in Washington, DC in February.”

This year’s topic (2013-14): Design a way to move people in and around your city. National finals in Washington DC (travel paid by Future City!) are February 15-19, 2014.

  • Educators can do the program without competing if they wish. Teams of 3 students + educator + engineer mentor. More students can participate but only three will present.
  • 1. Register; 2. Design virtual city in SimCity4 3. Draft essay 4. Work on building scale model of city 5. Write city narrative 6. Submissions

11. MathCounts: Enrichment, club, and competition math programs for middle school U.S. students (grades 6-8). National competition is a major event held in May; 12 students vie for title of Raytheon Mathlete Champion

  • Enroll your school online now to get your MathCounts handbook (early deadline: November 2013; final deadline: December). Homeschools are eligible. Club program is free. Competition teams of 1-4 students: fee $25-$100.
  • Competitions begin in January

12. National STEM Video Game Challenge: “Goal is to motivate interest in STEM learning among America’s youth by tapping into students’ natural passion for playing and making video games.”

  •  Categories for middle school (grades 5-8), high school, and collegiate. Also prizes for educators. Homeschoolers are eligible.
  • To enter, you or your team of up to 4 people must design a “video game” (defined at the site) that incorporates STEM learning (Click here for detailed description of middle school projects.)
  • Game can be fully programmed and playable (in one of the platforms suggested) or submitted as detailed written game design documents
  • Entry dates for this year TBD; last year entries were accepted from November to March
  • Prizes: laptop computers + $2000

13. Microsoft’s Imagine Cup: For budding tech entrepreneurs. Three technology competitions for high school & university students worldwide. First prize $50,000. Last year’s finalists won a trip to competition in Russia summer 2013. Registration to begin in September. Three contests:

  • World Citizenship: Make an app that could change someone’s life. Pick your cause: the environment, education, health, you name it. Use technology as an agent of change.
  • Games: Put a smile on the face of the world. Make the next great game and see people playing it all around you on console, PC, phone, slate – wherever people play games.
  • Innovation: Reinvent social networks. Transform online shopping. Experience music in a new way. Do something amazing with GPS. It’s time to take that crazy idea of yours and ship it!

14. M3 Moody’s Mega Math Challenge: Math competition to solve an open-ended, realistic, applied math-modeling problem focused on a real-world issue.

  • High school juniors & seniors in certain U.S. states only. Homeschoolers eligible.
  • Teams of 3-5 students have 14 hours over one weekend to do the problem; prepare by working on problems from previous years
  • Last year, registration began November 2012 and ended February 2013

15. Technology Student Association TEAMS: Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science (TEAMS) is an annual competition for middle and high school students designed to help them discover their potential for engineering.

During this one-day competition, students apply math and science knowledge in practical, creative ways to solve real-world engineering challenges. The 2014 TEAMS competition, “Engineering Tomorrow’s Cities,” is based on the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge “restore and improve urban infrastructure.”  Students will address engineering challenges in areas such as transportation, green space, and fresh water supply.

Events are held at universities around the U.S.

15A. (just found this one!) NASA Exploration Design Challenge. “The goal of the Exploration Design Challenge is for students to research and design ways to protect astronauts from space radiation.”

  • Challenges for grades K-4, 5-8, 9-12
  • Classroom based (would work for homeschool, too)
  • Design and build a prototype radiation shield
  • Submit student names for virtual flight crew by July 31, 2014

Traditional science fair competitions:

Science fairs were a crucial formative experience for me.  I’m competitive by nature but not interested in sports. I loved science and I was smart. Science fairs were a perfect match for me. Competing in three ISEFs truly changed my life. (Thank you, Minnesota State University SC/SW Regional Science Fair–so happy to see you’re still honoring kids with a passion for science!)

16. Intel International Science and Engineering Fairs (ISEF) and their affiliated regional fairs are the granddaddies of the science fair world. I can only summarize this massive global enterprise and direct you to the website of the sponsor, Society for Science and the Public.

  • Students in grades 6-12 are eligible to compete in affiliated regional fairs
  • Individuals or small teams perform a real scientific investigation (sometimes engineering, math, or computer programming) with well-designed experiments following the scientific method. This can be from the most basic level (such as, testing effect of water on seed germination) to the most advanced (ISEF national winners often have worked in university laboratories on cutting-edge science).
  • Check your regional fair’s website for deadlines. Regulations for use of human subjects, chemicals, etc. are quite strict and most projects require pre-approval as early as December, but certainly before the student starts work.

Broadcom MASTERS competition is part of the ISEF enterprise, a kind of junior ISEF. Top winners in grades 6-8 at ISEF-affiliated regional science fairs are nominated to enter their work in Broadcom MASTERS. Entry is by nomination only. Semifinalists are announced in August.

17.  Siemens Competition. Siemens is open to grades 9-12. Project entry deadline: Sept. 30, 2013. (Research must be done to enter, so plan now to enter next year.)

Other competitions for big-time high school science projects to enter: the BioGENEius Challenge and…

18. The Google Science Fair: “an online science competition seeking curious minds from the four corners of the globe. All you need is an idea. Geniuses are not always A-grade students. We welcome all mavericks, square-pegs and everybody who likes to ask questions.”

As best I can tell, Google Science Fair entries are traditional science fair projects (real experiments performed using the scientific method and following all safety/ethics rules of the sponsoring fair) that the student enters online in a virtual science fair. You are allowed to enter a project that you also entered in a “real” science fair.

Ideal for kids who don’t have access to an ISEF-affiliated regional fair.

  • Anybody, anywhere ages 13-18 can enter
  • No details posted yet for 2013; sign up to be notified
  • Awards in 3 age divisions. Big prizes: previous year’s winners won tens of thousands of dollars, media coverage, a trip to Google, and even a visit with President Obama at the White House. This year’s grand prize: a ten day trip to the Galapagos Islands.
  • Special prize: Science in Action, sponsored by Scientific American, is chosen from entrants

19. The Canada Wide Virtual Science Fair invites K-12 Canadian students to do a science project and then build a website to display their work.

  • Grades K-12 in Canadian schools
  • Registration begins January 2014

Bonus Contests:

20. Science & Art: 2nd Annual Humans in Space Art Contest

  • Open to kids 10-18 years old worldwide
  • Visual, literary, musical, or video artwork expressing vision of how humans will use science & technology in the future to explore space
  • Last year entry deadline was November 15. No dates posted yet for 2013.

21. Environmental Education: Canon North American Envirothon

  • Nationwide team competition for high school students in U.S. and Canada.
  • Teams organized in schools, homeschools, scout groups, etc.
  • In-class learning + hands-on outdoor activities to learn environmental science.
  • Topics: Soils and land use; aquatic ecology; forestry; wildlife; environmental issues. This year: sustainable local agriculture.
  • Students are tested at local competitions. National event is held in summer. (This year: July 20-24, 2014 at University of Georgia in Athens.)
  • Registration will open in late fall.

 The Kids Science Challenge: Sponsored by National Science Foundation. Site has not been updated since 2012 so this competition may be defunct. Information below is based on 2012 contest. Note that their website also offers science games, videos, science fair project ideas, and more.

  • Free, nationwide science competition for students in grades 3 through 6. Individual or team entries allowed.
  • Kids submit ideas and experiments for scientists and engineers to solve: Each year the KSC selects 3 science topics and a panel of expert scientists and engineers. The entry process is 3 easy steps: STEP 1: Kids research the three topics. STEP 2: Kids brainstorm their ideas, experiments or problems. STEP 3: Kids submit their ideas or experiments for scientists to solve.

Teachers: Combine science learning with thriller fiction. Use the PETROPLAGUE Teacher Guide to easily incorporate Dr. Amy Rogers’ page-turning eco-disaster novel Petroplague into your advanced biology or microbiology curriculum. Perfect for homeschoolers or book clubs. Learn how to virtually bring Dr. Rogers to your group.

Do you know about another great science, technology, engineering, or math competition? Leave a comment!

Want to know more about how to do a science project? Need project ideas? Click here.

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4 Responses to Top 20 science / STEM contests for kids

  1. Taylor Reber says:

    The ultimate middle school science competition.
    The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge is the nation’s premier science competition for grades 5-8. This one-of-a-kind video competition has sparked the imaginations of hundreds of thousands of students and enhanced science exploration, innovation and communication across the United States.

  2. Pingback: Priming America for A Brighter Future

  3. Andrew says:

    I’m writing to let you know about the 1st Annual robotic art competition with $100,000 in cash prizes. The contest’s goal is to challenge students to produce something visually beautiful with robotics. It’s ideal for robotic student projects or grad students involved in robotic planning and image processing – especially those who have an appreciation for art.

    Details and team signup at http://robotart.org.

    There is no cost to educational institutions or to students to enter and students can use any robotic system to produce the artwork. While most teams are using existing robotic arms, the contest is open to custom hardware. Students can enter up to 6 paintings in each of the competition categories of “fully automated execution” and “manually (semi or tele-robotic) generated” art, where generally, there is little or no specialized software used to control the robot.

    The deadline for artwork submission is April 3rd.

    If you have questions or ideas on who I should contact, please contact me,

    Andrew Conru, Ph.D.
    abconru@yahoo.com
    http://robotart.org

  4. Pingback: STEM Contests For Kids

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