Extracurricular activities include almost anything under the sun that doesn’t fit in the core curriculum. Most schools allow students to pursue any type of interest as long as students can find a faculty member to sponsor the activity through a club. Parents should know that the quality of most student-run clubs vary widely from year to year depending on the student leadership, faculty sponsors, membership, and funding.
These clubs, activities, and honor societies can help provide students with balance and learning opportunities outside of the core curriculum. Additionally, many competitive activities serve to nurture advanced talents in academics. Examples of competitive activities include speech and debate, mock trial, Model UN, quiz bowl, math club, and student government. Artistic activities include dance, bagpipes, and calligraphy.
Below are descriptions of some popular, well-established competitive activities that parents should be aware of for their children. An added benefit of participating in these events is special recognition that may boost a college applicant’s standing.
Mathcounts is a premier non-profit foundation that sponsors middle school math competitions throughout the nation. Teams of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders compete with other schools by solving critical thinking problems involving the extensive use of topics such as geometry and algebra. Interested students will need to joint their school’s team to compete. Schools fielding a Mathcounts team will have regular meetings in which students continually improve their math and reasoning skills through advanced practice.
American Mathematics Competitions (AMC) is like the Olympics for math. Sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America (MMA), the competition starts with the AMC 8 (7th and 8th graders), AMC 10 (9th and 10th graders), and AMC 12 (11th and 12th graders). The top 2.5% of AMC test takers are invited to participate in the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME), from which the MMA selects top performers to compete in the United States of American Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO). From the USAMO, the MMA selects approximately 30 top achievers to attend its Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program, from which six students are selected to join the “United States Math Team” for an international competition. Students participating in the AMC exams receive scores that, when high, are favorably viewed by elite universities. To sit for the AMC, students must be enrolled in the appropriate grade at a school registered with the MMA. School registration involves enrollment fees and the cost of test materials.
Mu Alpha Theta is a national honor society for the advancement of mathematics with approximately 100,000 members across 2000 schools in the US. Founded by members of the University of Oklahoma math department in 1957, Oklahoma remains the organizations functional headquarters. Mu Alpha Theta sponsors numerous math competitions throughout the year at the state and national level. Additionally, the organization awards scholarships and grants to both chapters and individuals. Students need join a chapter of Mu Alpha Theta in order to participate in its competitions and be eligible for scholarships. Chapters are normally offered through the student’s school.
Science and Engineering
Robotics clubs continue to grow increasingly popular as they blend the nation’s general need for more advanced skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) with hands-own, interactive, fun. Although there isn’t a single organization that governs robotics competitions in the US, there are many competitions including First Robotics and VEX Robotics (mostly high school), First Tech Challenge (middle and high school), and the First Lego League and Early Robotics (elementary school). Funding tends to be the biggest challenge for schools offering a robotics club, as they must secure a knowledgeable instructor, materials to build a competitive robot, and the registration fee for contests, which usually goes into the thousands of dollars.
The National Science Bowl is a science and mathematics competition managed by the US Department of Energy. Both high school and middle school teams can compete in more than 120 regional competitions (70 high school, 50 middle school) before getting the chance to compete in an all expenses paid final competition in Washington DC. Competing teams consist of four contestants, an alternate, and a teacher coach. Topics tested in the fast-paced question and answer format tournaments include chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, and energy. A highlight for middle school teams is building and racing model, electric cars.
The Siemens Competition and Intel Science Talent Search are among two of the most prestigious privately funded science competitions in the US. In both of these competitions, would-be Einsteins submit original research papers for judging. Regional winners or semi-finalists usually receive prizes worth about $1000 while those who make it to higher levels win as much as $100,000. However, winning the top prizes also carries a heavy burden; past finalists have gone on to win prestigious career awards like the Nobel Prize and MacArthur Fellowship.
Speech and Debate
The National Forensic League (NFL) is the pre-eminent “honor society” for speech and debate competitions for high school students. Students participate in competitions that may ultimately qualify them to participate in the big national tournament in a wide variety of events such as team debates (Policy), one-on-one debates (Lincoln-Douglas), mock US Congress debates (Congressional). Outside of “traditional debate,” students may also explore their more artistic side through events like Dramatic Interpretation, Humorous Interpretation, Poetry, and Storytelling. Qualifying for the national tournament involves participation in numerous local and regional competitions. Students must be a member of a registered school in order to compete in NFL sponsored competitions. Most schools will simply call their registered organization the speech and debate club/ team.
The National High School Mock Trial Championship (Mock Trial) is a nationwide competition pitting one team from each state against each other until one state’s team is proclaimed the winner. Teams qualify to participate in the national tournament through a series of local and regional tournaments. Competitions involve the presentation of hypothetical courtroom trials whereby each team consists of lawyers and witnesses. Students participating as lawyers give speeches, present and cross-examine witness, and make objections just like real lawyers in a contemporary American courtroom. Students participating as witnesses hone their acting skills to fill their roles and attempt to frustrate the opposing team’s lawyers during cross-examination. The Dallas Bar Association sponsors the Texas state-level competition. The non-profit organization National High School Mock Trial Championship, Inc. sponsors the national competition.
Quiz Bowl is a competitive trivia event whereby high school teams will compete each other to participate in regional, state, and national competitions. Questions come from a variety of topics such as history, science, and literature.
Odyssey of the Mind (OM) is a creative problem solving competition with levels for students in k-5, 6-8, and 9-12. Each year, students devise a solution to a problem in one of five categories: vehicle, technical, classics (knowledge of architecture, art, literature), structure, and theatrics. Competing teams are usually limited to seven members and the cost of materials used in the solution is usually limited to $150. NASA usually sponsors competitions in one of the categories. Students must be a member of a dues paying, registered member to participate in all levels of competition.
University Interscholastic League (UIL) is the premier, exclusively Texas forum for just about all competitive events among most public and some private schools. In addition to facilitating competitive sports, the League also hosts 22 high school and 18 elementary and junior high contests in academics and literature. Competitions include speech and debate (in association with NFL), academic contests in categories like mathematics, science, and literary criticism, theatre, and journalism.
Academic Decathlon is a nationwide high school academic competition consisting of multiple-choice tests, “performance events,” and an essay. School teams usually consist of nine members that are divided into three levels of competition based on GPA. Teams win gold, silver, and bronze medals through local, regional, and state events before qualifying for the overall national tournament. Topics are related to a theme and include questions from art, economics, language/ literature, math, music, science, and social science. The 2013-2014 theme is World War I.
Article last updated on March 5, 2014.
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