Have you ever watched students prepare for a speech meet or a robotics invitational? Or watched student debaters brainstorm about what their opponents might say? Or listened in as a group of students playing Junior Achievement’s Titan game work on their next quarter strategy?

If you have, you’ve seen a kind of collaboration, critical thinking and passion that you rarely find in a traditional classroom.

When students are engaged in a well-designed, team-oriented competition that rewards them for critical thinking about real-world issues, they are transformed.

I share many teachers’ skepticism toward competition, and I don’t use review games or one-on-one competition in my classroom. But I’ve embraced competitions that encourage teamwork, and I’ve seen my students push themselves far beyond any state standard or AP learning objective.

Listen to Jake, a student who, like many, wrestled with how much effort to put into high school classes.

“I knew I could do this if I actually went through the motions. Is it really worth it to put forth that extra energy to do good work here, or do I want to just kind of scrape by with whatever is good enough?”

Here’s Jake talking about competing in Economics Challenge and Junior Achievement.

“When you are competing, of course, the goal is to do the best you possibly can. That dilemma doesn’t exist. It’s constantly pushing you toward your upper limit as opposed to your lower limit on what’s good enough.”

In the summer after his senior year, when many students are relaxing and relieved to be done, Jake was still spending hundreds of hours working on the ed tech app he’d helped create for Junior Achievement. His team was preparing for the Minnesota Cup competition.

Here’s Jake again.

“JA Company was absolutely one of those things, the single biggest time commitment that I had. I think what drew me to it was doing something real and tangible, just set out to create something of my own that was meaningful in some way. One of the things JA emphasizes a lot is purpose in action. It’s one thing to put forward the time, but it’s another to understand why you are putting that time in. It was an incredible learning experience.”

Competition, when it’s thoughtfully constructed around meaningful learning, is a powerful tool for teachers. Students can compete in Shark Tank-style pitch contests, robotics invitationals, budget challenges, business simulations and cybersecurity challenges. They learn to push themselves, rely on their teammates, improve their presentation skills and make connections.

In Chapter 7 of Beat Boredom: Engaging Tuned-Out Teenagers, I write about the research on competition and how it impacts student motivation, and I explain how we can use competition to deeply engage students in learning and improve student performance.

This new video, the fifth in a series of six Beat Boredom videos, provides a quick look at how I use competition in my economics classroom.

Want to learn more about using competition effectively in the classroom? Order a copy of Beat Boredom on Amazon, or fill in the contact request form on neverbore.org.