Enriching the Curriculum through Competitions

Frances A. Karnes and Tracy L. Riley
Competitions can provide students with opportunities to gain both the content knowledge and process skills necessary for successful social studies learning. They offer another avenue for children to develop the essential skills needed to better understand society and to become informed and responsible citizens. Competitions can also create a strong sense of pride in academic achievement-not only for students, but also for their schools and communities-providing balance to school athletic events.1
A wide variety of competitions is available that can nicely complement, as well as enrich, the social studies curriculum. Depending on the particular competition, involvement can help students develop a spirit of inquiry, enhance thinking and research skills, and even shape world views. Some competitions focus on a specific content area, such as geography or history, while others promote broader themes across the social studies disciplines.

The Competition Process
Guiding students through the competition process involves several steps. Teachers may wish to consult Competitions: Maximizing Your Abilities, a publication we developed to assist students as they plan and prepare for competitions. It includes time management tips and other ideas for positive participation.2 Teachers should be prepared to help their students:
> Select a contest
> Take inventory of knowledge and skills
> Plan and prepare a timeline
> Assess and gather resources
> Seek sponsorship
> Acquire new knowledge and skills
> Practice, practice, practice
> Evaluate (self, teacher, peers)
Students should first determine, with their teacher, which competition best suits their abilities and interests. In making this decision, they should consider competition themes, individual and school resources, necessary skills, timelines, guidelines, and awards.

 Once a competition has been selected, teachers will want to begin helping students prepare. As with any major project or commitment, students will require varying amounts of assistance and encouragement. Ideally, teachers should act as facilitators who guide the process but also allow students to take initiatives on their own. At the same time, there may be specific content knowledge and skills that need to be addressed. For example, students may require a lesson in poster design prior to planning and developing posters for a competition.

 Safris suggests the importance of helping students maintain high levels of motivation, develop self-reliance, and practice without overpracticing.3 Those who are well-prepared are likely to be more successful and more willing to participate in future competitions.

 After each social studies competition takes place, it is important to discuss what students have learned by participating. Questions to pose may include:

>  What new social studies knowledge did you acquire?
> What did you gain in interpersonal, research, time management, and other skills?
> Did you meet people with whom you'll maintain contact?
> What are the pros and cons of participating in competitions?
> Which competitions may appeal to you in the future?
Teachers will also want to perform their own evaluation in order to make improvements in future student participation.

Some Competition Options
Students can choose from a wide variety of national social studies competitions. The following are some examples.

National Current Events League
Students in grades 2-12 with a particular interest in current events should be encouraged to expand their knowledge through the National Current Events League competition. Four times a year, students may participate by responding to 35 questions. Contact: National Current Events League, Box 2196, St. James, NY 11780.

National History Day Contest
Young historians will enjoy the challenges of the National History Day Contest. While the overall contest is designed for students in grades 6-12, the junior division is specific to grades 6, 7, and 8. The purpose of the competition is twofold. First, it seeks to develop students' critical thinking and problem solving skills in order to make better use of information. The second purpose is to encourage youth to develop a sense of history as process and change. The program is a year-long activity, with competitions beginning at the district level and proceeding to a national event. Contact: National History Day, Inc., University of Maryland, College Park, MD, 20742.

National Geography Bee
This is one of two national competitions in the area of geography. Depending on the grade level of your class, some students may want to participate in both. The National Geography Bee is for youth in grades 4-8, and is designed to encourage the teaching and study of geography. Principals must register their school and conduct the first stage of the competition at the school level. Students may then progress to the state and national competitions. Contact: National Geographic Society, 1145 17th Street, N.W., Washington, DC, 20036-4688.

National Geography Olympiad
This competition is also dedicated to the improvement of geography skills, and is open to all students in grades 2-12. It involves a 50-question test administered each year in late April or early May. Contact: National Geography Olympiad, Box 2196, St. James, NY 17780.

Civic Oration Contest
Students in grades 5-8 who wish to develop their thinking and speaking skills should consider the Civic Oration Contest. Its purpose is to encourage the appreciation of citizenship in American youth. Students speak on a different topic each year. Awards vary with each level of competition, and include plaques, trophies, and savings bonds. However, a minimum of 12 students must participate in order for a school to qualify for the contest. Guidelines are available in the fall of each year. Contact: Fraternal Department, Youth Division, Modern Woodmen of America, 1701 First Ave, Rock Island, IL 61201.

Freedom Foundation National Awards Program
This competition is designed for students in K-12, who must submit written essays or speeches. In addition, projects for individual achievement or involvement in communities are welcome. All must be related to one or more of the basic rights of all Americans set forth in the sponsor's American Credo, or the obligations outlined in its Bill of Responsibilities, both of which are available from the sponsor. Contact: Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge, Rt. 23, Valley Forge, PA 19482-0706.

National Social Studies Olympiad
Your students can sharpen their knowledge of general social studies concepts by participating in the National Social Studies Olympiad, which involves a 50-question social studies test. All students in grades 2-12 are eligible to register by writing directly to the sponsors. Medals and certificates are awarded to the winners. Contact: National Social Studies Olympiad, Box 2196, St. James, NY 11780.

National Americanism Poster Contest
There are two national competitions which require students to use their artistic talents to illustrate social studies concepts. The National Americanism Poster Contest solicits freehand drawings using pen, pencil, crayon, or paint from students in grades 3-5. The topic of the contest, which promotes the sponsor's concept of Americanism among youth, changes each year. Each drawing must be accompanied by a 50-word description. Contact: AMVETS National Headquarters, 4647 Forbes Boulevard, Lanham, MD, 20706-4380.

"Kids Helping Kids" Greeting Card Contest
In this contest, students use pencils, pens, crayons, color markers, or paint to make a greeting card illustrating this concept: even though children come from different countries, they need the same things to survive and grow. A grand prize is awarded in each of two age categories: 7 and under, and 8-13. The two winning cards are printed by the U.S. Committee for UNICEF and sold exclusively at Pier I stores. The contest is co-sponsored by UNICEF, Better Homes and Gardens, and Pier I. Contact: United States Committee for UNICEF, 333 E. 38th Street, New York, NY 10016.
Although only a few students receive awards at social studies competitions, all students who participate in these positive risk-taking events are winners. Encourage your students to get involved in competitions you think can enrich and extend the social studies curriculum. v

1A. T. Williams, "Academic Game Bowls as a Teaching/Learning Tool," Gifted Child Today 9, No.1 (1986): 2-5; and M. Zirkes and R. Penna, "Improving School Climate with Academic Competitions," NASSP-BULLETIN 68 (1984): 94-97.
2F. A. Karnes and T. C. Riley, Competitions: Maximizing Your Abilities (Waco, TX: Prufrock Press, 1996).
3R. Safris, Tips for Creative Problem-Solving Teams (Parsippany, NJ: Good Apple, 1996).

About the Authors
Frances A. Karnes is a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi and Tracy L. Riley teaches at Massey University in New Zealand.