Afterschool Programs
Computer contests and competitions

The role of competition in youth development is a “process which prepares young people to meet the challenges of adolescence and adulthood through a coordinated, progressive series of activities and experiences which help them to become socially, morally, emotionally, physically and cognitively competent.” (National Youth Development Information Center)

Appropriate competition is in line with developmental level of the participants and creates opportunities for developing leadership, teamwork, character and life skills. Competition can be used for motivating, teaching and assessing progress. Young people generally enjoy friendly competitions and the desire to do well can be a strong motivation. The design and objectives of a competition can frame the content and put it into a context that helps young people to apply what they are learning. Show and sharing what is being learned is an effective measure of what is being learned. It is quite natural for all of us to measure ourselves against others but that should not be the primary focus. In educational events, participants should measure themselves against a set of standards and their own progress toward those standards.

Types of competitive events

All the following methods can be used in a range of settings from informal sharing to highly competitive events. Most can also be used with individuals and to build teamwork. Many of the events will also use elements of some of the other events. For example, presentations are often part of demonstrations, simulation contests and judging. Although frequently seen as separate activities, non-formal teaching and evaluation can be tightly intertwined. The very best evaluation methods are also effective teaching methods. The best ways to evaluate non-formal education are also important youth development methods.

  • Simulation contests

Computer simulations are models of the significant variables and relationships of complex activities or systems. Many of the most popular computer games are simulations. Typically simulation contests are team events with the participants developing a simulated activity and presenting or explaining the simulation.

  • Skill-a-thons

Skill-a-thons can be a single integrated activity, but they are usually multiple stations with planned activities or challenges. The participants demonstrate their skill and knowledge by completing the activities at each station. The event can focus on instruction or competition. The students can participate as individuals or as teams. The activities can be at various levels of difficulty appropriate to the level of the learners. The more advanced young people can help plan, set up and staff stations.

  • Demonstrations and presentations

Communication is a basic leadership and life skill. A demonstration teaches twice. Both the demonstrator and their audience learn from the demonstration. Informal, one-on-one sharing is the most basic form of demonstrating. Encourage participants to share their discoveries with each other. You can assess the learning by listening to the sharing. 

Participants can present a prepared demonstration to the group or other audience. Many local programs will plan opportunities for public demonstrations. Working demonstrations and team demonstrations are excellent for young people that are reluctant to talk in front of a group. Working demonstrations do not have a prepared “lesson.” The presenter demonstrates an activity or task and engages the audience in a discussion as the presenter works. A variation is audience to participation in the task or activity. Team demonstrations are very effective at teaching teamwork skills. Demonstrations can be organized into competitive public speaking type events.

  • Exhibits

Most 4-H projects are based on producing a product. Exhibiting the product and having it evaluated by a judge evaluates the learning. Exhibiting at the fair is one of the most popular images of 4-H. Conference judging is the most effective way to evaluate the learning and to add value to exhibiting. In addition to evaluating the product, the judge can ask the youth about the process. 

Computer products often use paper products like printouts and listings. By using notebooks or posters in an exhibit, the learner can also explain the product and its significance. Computer components made into an educational display can be an effective exhibit.

  • Judging

Another important life skill is decision-making. Judging helps develop skills at evaluating among options. A typical judging activity will present four items. that could be used for the same purpose. Participants rank the objects. For example, the students might rank four greeting cards created by a graphics program.

Judging is most effective when the young judges give reasons for their rankings. There will probably be many “personal preference” reasons in informal judging situations. Help the participants define and focus on objective reasons. More formal judging activities will present choices that have objective ranking criteria. Build judging skills informally by asking project participants to compare, choose and explain why. 

Identification is another judging activity. About a dozen items are presented for the learner to identify. Identification activities are excellent for teaching about hardware components.

  • Quiz Bowl

Quiz Bowls test knowledge of facts. They tend to be more formal and are generally team events. They can be just for fun or very competitive. The format is generally similar to the TV quiz show, College Bowl. The TV quiz show, Jeopardy, is another popular format. Rapidly changing technology, multiple platforms and multiple ways to accomplish tasks can make question writing very problematic. Many 4-H programs will have quiz bowl buzzer equipment.

Resources for all project levels