This post is the forth of six in a series with ideas and resources on how to make computing lessons engaging and demanding for as many students as possible. Click here for the original post.
Everyone loves to win a prize. Even if the prize is really lame. I love getting cheap and tacky Christmas presents because they’re recycled straight into prizes. The weirder the better. Most of the time though, prizes are unnecessary – students just love the respect and recognition of being appreciated, affirmed for winning – whatever that looks like in practice.
Competitions can be quick or last multiple lessons. You can compete on speed of completion, quality of ideas, depth of understanding, quantity of challenges solved, amount of help offered, level of independence / resilience displayed… pretty much anything can be made competitive.
When someone wins, others inevitably lose out so it’s never a good idea to rely too heavily on competitive projects, but an edge of competition in a lesson can do wonders to boost the pace through a dull or tricky topic.
- Combine collaborative and competitive activities as a way of getting students to support each other whilst also boosting the pace and enjoyment of a lesson.
e.g. “You’re sat in teams for today’s lesson. There are four ways to win points for your team: 1) Be the first to correctly answer a question. 2) Be the first in the class to complete a challenge I set. 3) Be the first whole team to help each other complete a challenge I set. 4) Be the first whole team to be sat silently with screens off when I ask for your attention.
- Mix up competitions so that sometimes you reward pace, sometimes quantity, sometimes quality, sometimes independence, sometimes assistance towards others and sometimes depth of understanding.
e.g. “Before we start the new topic today we’re going to see who’s the best at touch-typing in the class. You have 5 minutes enter as many races on play.typeracer.com as you can. The student with the highest WPM score and the student with the highest accuracy rating will win today’s …”
- Liven up revision lessons or end of unit tests with interactive quizes. You can also get students to create these quizes for a homework.
What’s motivating my students to work quickly / carefully / creatively? What incentives are there to go beyond the minimum expectations?
Example Activity: Competitive Programming in Scratch
Split your class into teams and get them to compete as a team to solve a range of programming challenges. This link outlines how to do this in a way that promotes independence, resilience and collaboration as well as boosting computational thinking skills.
Research and further reading
This paper talks about the dangers of creating an environment which is too competitive in STEM subjects, which can put barriers in the way of some students from learning. Competitive activities shouldn’t only reward those who ‘win’: a good teacher could alternate between rewarding pace, effort, accuracy, attention to detail, creativity and resilience rather than only ever rewarding the highest score.Tobias, S. They’re not dumb, they’re different: stalking the second tier. Research Corporation, Tucson. 1990
Despite the dangers of competition mentioned in this paper, other studies (e.g. Porter & Simon, 2013) show competition in classroom activities can be a really healthy way of engaging students and improving outcomes, recruitment and retention.