Here at AIClub, we have helped many students win STEM competitions with innovative technology projects that solve real-world problems (over 20 competition wins to date in both US national and international competitions!). In this blog, we cover some more tips and approaches that we have seen work for our kids, and what you can do to improve your chances of winning.
A critical requirement is of course to have a cool project idea. We have covered this separately in another blog - how to find a great STEM competition idea and develop it. In this blog, we cover a different (but equally important aspect), what skills you need to develop to convert your awesome idea into a winning project entry. There are four skill areas.
Most STEM competitions require you to convert your awesome idea into a working prototype, or at least an experiment. This will require a mix of coding skills, AI skills, and possibly app development skills. For example
Anika, whose award-winning middle school project used AI to detect Diabetic Retinopathy, developed both a prototype and an app front end for her innovation. She was able to use this prototype to demonstrate how well her AI worked, and also how doctors can use her innovation.
Most competitions expect you to innovate in some form (ie develop a solution that is different or better than what has been created by others). This requires that you be able to research, organize and understand what has been done before, and explain how your project advances the state of the art beyond what has been done before. Research can be competitive research in the cases of innovation competitions or technical research in the case of science fairs. For example
Team MDS, which won the Technovation Girls Challenge Grand Prize, included a detailed competitive analysis and explained exactly what features in their app were advances beyond what the competition had. You can find their pitch video here.
Most STEM competitions require that you present the solution either live or in a video. These presentations usually give you a very short time, usually 2-5 minutes, to present your entire pitch. This requires that you develop presentation skills - how to design a presentation that captures all the critical aspects of your innovation, and how to present it confidently and passionately. Competition judges love to see that you care about the problem that you are solving, understand what you did, and have a vision of how to take it further. An excellent presentation contains all of these elements in a very short time. For example
Anudi’s presentation on COLBY, her award-winning app to help the lonely, makes a passionate case for how COVID-19 has impacted her community, and why she feels COLBY will help. It also showcases how she has integrated deep technology, from AI to visual rendering, to build an innovative app.
If you have the opportunity to make a live presentation in front of judges, prepare for it by practicing as much as you can. At AIClub, we frequently run practice drills for kids preparing to present live. This includes not just practicing their presentation but getting ready to answer questions by considering as many potential questions as possible.
We have already covered technical skills, research skills, and presentation skills. Isn't that enough? What are Competition Skills? Competition skills mean understanding not just your innovation but also exactly what the competition is looking for. All competitions are different and what they value in an entry is different. Even if you have worked for months on your project, remember that you will be judged by what the competition values. What you should do is
Many competitions publish their judging criteria or rubric. Study it carefully and follow it. Make sure that everything they care about is included in your submission document or video
If you have any opportunities to consult someone who has entered this competition before, do that! At AIClub we have had students enter many of the worldwide available K-12 competitions, and other AIClub students have benefited from these experiences to improve their entries.