Getting students online has never been a prob- lem. They are connected all the time—watching videos, reading their friends’ social media posts,
and playing games. And they are very comfortable using
the internet for all manner of knowledge gathering, from
Googling facts to finding answers to their questions in
But the web offers so much more than mere consumption. Students can use the internet to collaborate with
others and showcase their own creations, including videos,
blog posts, fan fiction, video games, and more. Of course,
producing requires more higher-order thinking and computing skills than consuming, so students often need extra
motivation to get involved.
One way to inspire even the most reluctant creators
is by tapping into their competitive and collaborative
instincts. Providing virtual spaces where youth can not
only socialize, but also develop and share their own digital
content, adds a new dimension to online participation. In
fact, online competitions represent a new type of participatory culture in schools. Educators can leverage their ever-growing popularity to motivate their students to new levels
of student-centered learning, “competitive collaboration,”
and technology use.
Inspired by this potential, we implemented two elective
courses for middle and high school students at the Penn
Alexander School and the Science Leadership Academy
in Philadelphia based on two online competition models:
the National STEM Video Game Challenge (stemchallenge.
org) and the Scratch Collab Camp-Music Mashup (info.
scratch.mit.edu/collabcamp2012), each of which offers a
unique venue for children to develop their own digital
production skills in a communal environment.
Student-Centered Skill Building
Two of the biggest and longest-standing hurdles facing
educators are integrating technology into the classroom
effectively and developing authentic collaboration within
the classroom. Online competitions and camps can help
meet both of these challenges.
Some teachers are reluctant to incorporate programming
into their classes because they believe it requires extensive
computing skills. However, participating in online competitions can ease the transition because students can start
simply by remixing others’ projects, which leverages collaboration to produce more complex work. Competitions
also give students intrinsic motivation to learn and practice
new tools and skills to create better products.
In our courses, middle school students at Penn Alexander created STEM video games with Scratch, an easy-to-use, graphical programming language developed at
the MIT Media Lab, to enter in the National STEM Video
Game Challenge. This yearly competition, which students
enter online in groups or as individuals, builds on kids’
natural passion for video games. They create a video game
around STEM concepts and upload it to the site, and gaming and programming experts judge their final projects.
(Watch our students’ project video at www.youtube.com/
In the Scratch Collab Camp-Music Mashup, high school
students from the Science Leadership Academy also used
Scratch to design animated music videos in an interactive
mashup project. But this is more of a collaborative competition, where students create animated or interactive
music videos or music visualization projects using Scratch.
They upload their creations to the Scratch website, which is
home to more than 3 million projects and provides a nonthreatening online space for beginners to start and more
advanced “Scratchers” to thrive. The site even allows students to remix others’ projects and make them their own,
so beginners can start slowly.
Because many of our students were new to Scratch, they
needed to develop the basic skills necessary to navigate
the website and to program. Rather than teaching these
Students who are avid online consumers often need an extra push to
become producers. Tap into their competitive and collaborative instincts
to get them excited about creating and sharing their own digital content.