Light-hearted Challenges for Students

Posted October 12, 2020 by Jessica Fahrenholtz

It seems every aspect of life has changed this year. While we think about how the chaos has affected our economy, it is important to remember that our children have been affected just as much. The stress of social distancing and isolation can be especially difficult on students.

Whether they are learning remotely or back in the classroom, there is no denying school is not what it used to be. With school changing and everything going virtual, academic competitions are more beneficial than ever. While some look at competitions as an intense, stressful environment, there are many academic competitions that take a much more light-hearted approach to the challenges they pose to students. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. In this challenge, students are tasked to create a wild and wacky way to achieve a unique goal posed each year. Check out some of the RGMC videos on their website to see how much fun the students can have with this program.

This year, the RGMC’s theme is, “Shake and Pour a Box of Nerds!” Students learn all about basic physics, and other STEM principles while creating their fun and wacky machine ending in some ingenious way of shaking and pouring those childhood favorite candies of ours!

The RGMC and other competitions like it provide hands-on critical thinking skills that are missing from the school curriculum, but they do it in a fun, light-hearted way that a lot of parents and teachers might be looking for to help remove some of the anxiety and stress of the classroom. These academic competitions are also a great way to break from the screen time of remote learning and give kids some direction and say in their instruction. Here are five challenges that students can take part in right now to help take the stress out of their new routine and add a little bit of fun to their education. 


Rube Goldberg Machine Contest

Our featured program is probably the most recognized “fun” academic challenge! In this challenge, students must create a Rube Goldberg Machine (RGM) – a crazy contraption which accomplishes a simple task in the most complicated and funniest way possible! The program is based on the “invention” cartoons of the famous, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Cartoonist, Rube Goldberg. His drawings and imagined machines are at the heart of the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. They use everyday items (mostly junk!), they tell a story, and most important of all — they make you laugh! Don’t miss this opportunity for your students to connect with learning in such a fun, light-hearted kind of way!


Destination Imagination
DI provides unique educational experiences across seven project-based Challenge types–Technical, Scientific, Engineering, Fine Arts, Improvisational, Service Learning, and Early Learning. New, open-ended Team Challenges are developed annually with the help of educators, subject matter experts and qualified volunteers to cover a wide range of student interests and align to current educational standards.” Available for teams from Pre-K to college.


This competition combines teamwork with robotics for an educational fun time that students will want to compete in year after year. Participants will get to build, program, and compete with their robots making this the ideal scenario to motivate students to do their best work and learn essential life skills along the way. This competition is also structured to support the common core standards students already taught in school. This connection allows students to extend the learning they are already doing in the classroom in a hands-on way. 

Design Squad Global 

With more kids stuck at home than ever, the Design Squad Global Challenges are a great way to get kids thinking and solving real problems using simple household materials. Once students create a design, they submit their creations online and earn votes which determine each challenge’s top designers. This competition is a great way to get kids engaged, competing, and thinking in a new way while making the most of virtual learning. 

Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge 

With many of the hands-on experiments students looked forward to in school unrealistic at home, this science challenge is a great way to motivate students to explore science independently, innovate solutions to common problems, and share them with others across the country. Another fun element of this challenge is the submission video students make to compete. This competition is science, technology, engineering, and math in one engaging and hands-on project. 


If you are looking to enrich your students’ education and encourage them to think outside the box, academic competitions are a great place to start. Head to our competitions page to see what academic competitions are coming up. Set up your account to follow competitions that excite you and stay up-to-date on all the news with academic competitions.

Interested in more than one competition? Upgrade to a premium account so you can track your progress in competitions, get insider information on academic competitions, access the ICS competitions concierge, and gain exclusive discounts on ICS-managed programs.