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Using a STEM Competition to Further Motivate Advanced Placement Students


As teachers, one of the most rewarding aspects of our jobs is when students express excitement about classroom material. We often spend hours developing lesson plans, grading papers, and serving as respected adults to tomorrow’s best and brightest. Seeing sheer enthusiasm makes all of the prep work worthwhile.

There have been numerous educational trends over my four-decade career. As other seasoned teachers know, some are fleeting, and some are here to stay. ExploraVision falls into the latter category because it incorporates real-world thinking and other critical life skills. Instead of only encouraging STEM skills, ExploraVision builds soft skills such as public speaking and teamwork. That is why my AP Physics students at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, NY, have participated the last 12 years.
St.Anthony's High School New York, Toshiba ExploraVision winner
Getting Started: The Value of Teamwork

All of the students look forward to ExploraVision each year and their eagerness is infectious. We begin by brainstorming. The first assignment requires that everyone generates three ideas to bring to our weekly seminar. Each student takes turns presenting their best idea to the class, giving them the opportunity to refine their critical thinking skills. Afterwards, we work on building teams based around the strongest project topics. I encourage my students to join teams based upon their interest in the proposed ideas, reminding them that this is a fantastic opportunity to learn about concepts which fascinate them.

Once teams are formed, students take time to research, discuss and grasp their specific topic and relevant technology. This step is crucial as many times, problems arise when groups attempt to “futurize” technology without having a solid understanding of how it presently works. Additionally, this time allows students to get acquainted, establish rolls and understand that their success depends upon the combined contributions of the individuals. I always enjoy watching teams work collaboratively and grow together throughout the duration of their project. These are the types of valuable skills they’ll use in college and their careers.

St.Anthony's High School New York, Toshiba ExploraVision winner

Working Toward Victory

I’ve developed a system to keep teams organized and on-pace to complete their ExploraVision entries. Week-by-week, they submit completed sections of the 11-page description and I review, edit and provide feedback. Eventually, the finished product—including sample web pages—is presented to the seminar group. During this presentation, each group is expected to defend their proposal before the other teams and occasionally, guest teachers. We often make references to the television show Shark Tank, encouraging each other to “sell” their ideas. This truly pushes students beyond their comfort zones since they need to position themselves as experts.

Last year, my students submitted between 40-50 ExploraVision team proposals. We were very excited when we discovered that 14 of our teams were selected as Honorable Mentions. Our most successful team won first place at ExploraVision’s awards ceremony in Washington, DC.

St.Anthony's High School New York, Toshiba ExploraVision winner

Download these powerful K-12 science lesson plans to get started!

About the Author

During his 42-year teaching career at the Wheatley School and St. Anthony’s High School in New York, Paul Paino has taught AP Physics and directed two successful science research programs. He has mentored thousands of students in both local and national science competitions and has received recognition for his achievements in education by his school district and by national organizations. Learn more about Paul and other ExploraVision ambassadors.