The U.S. will need 1 million more STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) experts over the next decade, meaning it’s essential that more young people show interest in pursuing a STEM career to fill this demand. And, as the world continues to grow more dependent on technology, it’s crucial that younger generations who grew up alongside this tech contribute their perspectives to the STEM community to further promote innovation alongside these advancements.
A recent 1study conducted by Toshiba Americas revealed that 73% of Americans didn’t have the opportunity to participate in STEM activities outside of their required K-12 education. Now more than ever, it’s vital to ensure students of all ages are given the opportunity to develop their interests in STEM through immersive and engaging ways outside of their core curriculum.
At Toshiba we’re committed to encouraging these young minds to strive toward STEM topics and we’re actively investing in this next generation of scientists through engaging STEM education programs and project-based learning opportunities. Thirty-two years ago, Toshiba partnered with the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) to launch Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision, the world’s largest K-12 science competition, to inspire students to think big and have a role in shaping a better future. ExploraVision challenges students to use problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork to imagine solutions to real-life issues — And even win prizes for their work.
Here are three reasons why we believe STEM competitions like ExploraVision are key to inspiring the next generation of scientists.
According to the Equality of Opportunity Project (EOP), innovation is a critical component of economic growth. Competitions like ExploraVision create opportunities for students to come up with solutions to real-life problems that are important to them. For example: past winning ideas have included finding a potential cure for cystic fibrosis, increasing the efficiency of electric cars, building a group of drones designed to extinguish fires quicker and creating fabrics made from mushroom’s mycelium that aim to reduce waste from textiles.
ExploraVision is a special competition because it offers an all-in-one solution for teachers to spark enthusiasm, educate and involve students, both online and in real-life settings, around the scientific and engineering principles outlined in The Next Generation Science Standards. These principles include activities such as asking questions and defining problems, planning and carrying out investigations, and analyzing and interpreting data. These are crucial skills that are important for students to develop as they prepare for their future careers. Not to mention, this project-based style of learning is a great way to get kids excited about STEM, rather than learning from a textbook in a classroom.
Teaching Teamwork and Responsibility
Requirements for STEM contests often include working in a team – an essential life skill. A team environment enhances students’ sense of responsibility by requiring them to take ownership over their part in projects. Engaging in teamwork also instills the importance of how one’s contributions have a direct impact on others around them; every part of the project requires students to recognize how important their contributions are to the final presentation.
Additionally, contests like ExploraVision help students improve their verbal and written communication skills – and their confidence – as they are required to present their findings in writing, as well as build and present their findings to a panel of judges and answer questions on the fly. Finally, science competitions help teach responsibility and time management skills as they’ll be required to meet a certain number of deadlines.
Enhancing Problem-Solving Skills
To create an award-winning science project at ExploraVision, students must think critically about solutions for social, medical or environmental issues, while adhering to scientific principles. Science competitions often present participants with complex problems or challenges to address creatively. To succeed, contestants must analyze these problems, break them down into manageable components, and develop effective strategies to solve them. This scientific process inherently promotes critical thinking through deductive reasoning and analytical thinking.
In any competition, unexpected challenges or obstacles may arise and when they do, it’s a great place for students to use their critical thinking skills to adapt to any issue quickly, adjust their approach and find an answer to their problem, effectively.
Inspiring the Next Generation of STEM Professionals
Students in grades K-12 are in a pivotal stage of life, during which their experiences will likely shape the trajectory of their future careers. High school is particularly an influential time of discovery for students, with a 1quarter of U.S. adults first realizing they were interested in STEM during 9-12 grade. So, providing students the opportunity to use their critical thinking, problem solving and technical skills in STEM competitions can impact their future career ambitions. Science competitions inspire curiosity, decision making, leadership, entrepreneurship, acceptance of failure and more. Regardless of the career outcome a student chooses, they still learn valuable skills needed for a technology-driven world.
A past ExploraVision said that participating in the competition changed their view on handling challenges — “Instead of seeing a problem out there, I now see a solution and instead of seeing something that’s wrong, I see something that can be made right.” It’s clear that engaging students in fun STEM activities like science competitions can spark the imagination of more young minds and encourage innovative thinking.
ExploraVision invites students in grades K-12 to pair up in teams of two to four, to identify a problem facing our world today and research scientific principles and technologies to design innovative new solutions that could address this problem. It’s a fun and engaging program that can inspire a lifelong love of science, technology and innovation for students and teachers alike. Winners will get the chance to present their ideas to executives from Toshiba, NSTA and other VIPs. Participants can win prizes, including $10,000 U.S. Series EE Savings Bonds (at maturity).
ExploraVision is now open for entries until January 31, 2024, at ExploraVision.org. You can sign up for free, now!
1About the survey
In partnership with Dynata, Toshiba Americas conducted a consumer survey, targeting 1,000 adults across the United States, age 18+, during September 2023. The survey focused on their experiences with STEM competitions outside of the classroom. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate, no estimates of sampling error can be calculated.