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Staying Competitive

March 12, 2008

Using and Teaching Competition.

I am not referring to the endless pursuit of rankings and grades. I’m thinking of the fantastic things that can happen when competition is used as an instructional tool. I mean having students race to solve puzzles, or sort number cards into Pythagorean triples. I mean getting a wild energy in the classroom, and having students speak up who never said a word before.

In much of the “modern” education literature that I’ve been reading, education is paired with the word “cooperation”. What happened to competition? Why is it so wrong? What’s wrong with students competing to solve an Internet math hunt, or students challenging each other to ever-harder problems?

Getting into college is competitive. Getting a job is competitive. Trust me on this one. Why should we shy away from using competition to increase achievement and prepare our students?

I assume that public education has moved away for reasons around creating “winners” and “losers”. I feel the more we compete, the better we learn that winning and losing isn’t really part of the equation. Competing, and pushing oneself is the goal. For example, if a student competes to have the highest score in class on a test but finishes third – and along the way increases their overall score from prior assessments – did they really “lose”?

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