Academic Competition Best-Practices and Opportunities for Teachers

Posted September 23, 2020 by Aisha Abdullah, PhD

A teacher standing in front of projection screen

Teachers play an important role in the lives of their students. Beyond serving as educators, teachers often act as mentors, advisors, and moral support. Now more than ever, educators are tasked with keeping students engaged and learning, even as the education landscape is in a state of uncertainty and transition. Because of their unique position in students’ lives, teachers are particularly well-suited to help students succeed in academic competitions. While at the same time, competitions can help make teachers’ lives much easier by providing ready-to-go activities, lesson plans, and virtual project-based-learning experiences.

Academic competitions enhance learning and introduce students to real-world applications and implications of what they learn in the classroom. They also let students explore potential career paths and help them develop skills they may not otherwise access until entering the workforce. For the teachers who get involved, competitions offer a chance to further students’ academic growth and gain some professional development. See the list at the end of the article for several competitions that are open to educators.


Teacher Best Practices 

Help students find the right competition
There are hundreds of academic competitions covering dozens of topics. Finding a competition that is a good fit takes time. Help students find competitions that match their interests and learning style. Start by searching the ICS database, which allows you to filter competitions by type, theme, and target grade. Use the ICS premium account features to help track important deadlines of competitions on your account. To find out about other competitions, consider joining local learning communities (usually at universities, libraries, and city agencies) for announcements and updates about learning opportunities.

Don’t be afraid to fail
So much of academic achievement in the classroom comes down to pass or fail. In competitions, as in the real world, failure is simply an opportunity to learn from experience and fine-tune based on new knowledge. Students may be disheartened if they don’t win their first competition. Particularly for high-performing students, this might be their first experience with failure. Help students turn the potential for failure into a learning opportunity and encourage students to apply again next year or apply to new competitions. 

Encourage students to leave their comfort zone
For students who are new to competitions, they might seem quite intimidating. The reality is that competitions are where students have some of the most rewarding learning experiences and build lasting relationships. Encourage students to sign up for competitions that challenge them and push them into new territory. 

Get involved!
There are many ways for educators to get involved in academic competitions. Write a recommendation letter. Become a coach or mentor. Let students use your classroom to practice speeches, quiz each other on historical facts, or build a model city. Don’t wait for the students to come to you, if you can, present your students with opportunities in academic competitions. Share the ICS database with them and encourage them to find competitions that resonate with their interests. As they learn about each competition, a little bit of encouragement goes a long way to help students know that they can do it. Remember, it’s not all about who wins the grand prize. It’s about the great journey along the way!

If you’re excited to get involved, you’ll be thrilled to know that competitions are not just for students. Below is a list of competitions open to teachers and other professionals.


Teacher Competition Opportunities

Apparatus Competition – Physics and engineering competition for physics teachers
Autonomous Aerial Vehicle Tournament – Robotics competition open to everyone
eVolo Skyscraper Competition – Global team architecture and design challenge open to everyone
Fairy Tales Architecture Competition – Sci-Fi writing contest open to everyone
Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Contest – Creative writing competition open to everyone
Gingko Prize for Ecopoetry – Global poetry contest with an ecological theme for writers 18 and up
InvenTeams High School Invention Grants – Proposal-based STEM design challenge
National Recreation Trails Photo Contest – Photography contest open to everyone
Robogames – Robotics competition open to everyone
Solve For Tomorrow – STEM competition open to all teachers
The Dencity Competition – Architectural or planning design competition open to everyone
Young Champions of the Earth – Environmental challenge open for applicants 18 and up