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Solve for Tomorrow OpEd: It’s Not Easy Being a STEM Competition Judge


In an Opinion column for STEM SmartBrief, a STEM education media outlet, Harry Preston, who helped judge this year’s Solve for Tomorrow national STEM competition for public middle and high school students, writes that the hardest part of judging a student STEM competition is “keeping your judge hat on” and not slipping back into teacher mode. Judging the final round of the 13th annual Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition, it was difficult for him to contain his excitement about what these kids were working on and how innovative they were.

Asked about common themes among the ten projects that were being pitched by the competition’s National Finalists, Harry replied that there was an overarching theme – “Find a need, Fill a need.” These teams were identifying problems and issues that were of concern to them and their communities and, in that process, they typically developed a solution that had global implications.

A look at the final student pitches shows several clear trends to the Computer Science Teacher at Green Street Academy in Baltimore and past three-time Samsung Solve for Tomorrow State Winner and one-time National Finalist:

  • Community mental health challenges were top of mind for the two middle school teams that made it to the finals.
  • Climate/environment induced dangers sparked the greatest number of proposals from these highly motivated young people.
  • Concern for distressed community members ran throughout the proposals.

He was also asked if he thinks competition is the right approach for a learning environment. “In many ways, competition drives innovation – it helps you learn how to marshal finite resources; it forces you to prioritize. The STEM competitions my classes enter don’t really have any losers – there are winners and learners. If you don’t win, you learn, and you can apply what you learn to future projects.”

“As a teacher in a resource challenged community, I also want to add a comeback to those who say that ‘Fail Often’ should be a mantra in the tech space. The luxury of failing isn’t equally shared across American education. Some school districts can afford to fail and fail again before getting things ‘right.’ Elsewhere, teachers have to make do with what’s on hand, or that they can afford to supplement out of their own pockets.”

That’s why Harry believes programs like Solve for Tomorrow are so important. “They provide a very real supplement to the limited resources available for STEM programs in many districts. Even those that didn’t achieve top prizes learned that they – their ideas, their skills, and their concerns for the communities – are valued in the world outside their classrooms.”


Read Harry’s Opinion article here:

To learn more about Solve for Tomorrow, which will be kicking off this Fall, please visit or follow us on Instagram or Facebook.

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