March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Alan Alda’s Flame Challenge Ignites Curiosity for Science

Posted: Friday, December 11th, 2015

Alan Alda, a founding member of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, started the Flame Challenge in 2012 to have scientists answer the question, “What is a flame?,” in a way that resonated with 11-year-old students. Last year, 20,000 students from around the world voted on hundreds of entries to find ones that best answered the question, “What is sleep?”

The Flame Challenge, an annual contest held by the Alda Center, works to ignite excitement and a lifelong curiosity for science in children.

“I came up with this contest as a fun challenge for scientists to explain a complex thing like a flame in a way that would make it clear to an 11-year-old,” said Alan Alda, an actor, writer and visiting professor in Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. “The idea was to urge scientists to communicate more clearly. I didn’t realize what an extraordinary learning experience it was going to be for the 11-year-olds. By now, tens of thousands of kids from all over the world have excitedly delved into the mysteries of nature as they’ve judged the scientists’ entries.”

The mission of the Alda Center, located in Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism, is to help scientists communicate more effectively with the public. The Center gives innovative science communication courses for graduate and undergraduate science students and conducts workshops around the country. The Flame Challenge is designed to help scientists explain difficult subjects in an interesting and informative way.

In the challenge, students vote on a science question, which scientists around the world answer in a written or video format to help the students understand the question. Then, the entries are screened for scientific accuracy and sent to thousands of fifth and sixth grade students in registered schools around the world to be judged.

Courtesy of Mrs. Sandra Brown, Allisonville Elementary School Students show enthusiasm for the Flame Challenge.

Courtesy of Mrs. Sandra Brown, Allisonville Elementary School
Students show enthusiasm for the Flame Challenge.

“My fifth grade class last year had such a wonderful experience with the Flame Challenge,” said Michelle A. Miller, a sixth grade science teacher at Selden Middle School. “…my students were invested in the results and were so excited that many of them picked the video winner. The repetition of the reading and video pieces was also an excellent learning tool and offered us an authentic reason to do close reading.”

Students vote for the six finalists’ entries. Then, students vote for the top written and top video responses out of the six entries. At the Worldwide Assembly, held every year in April, 10 schools from around the world talk with Alan Alda in a live video conference to discuss the finalists’ answers.

“The students really enjoy seeing any of the entries they judged in the finals,” said Willie Schmidt, a teacher from the Laurel Hill School in East Setauket. “They always enjoy all the responses and actually learn about the “question” while reading the responses and watching the videos.”

Andrea Miller, a teacher from Beach Street Middle School in West Islip, said it was difficult to have all of her students in three sections complete the readings and videos in last year’s challenge.

“I would advise people that if they have three sections to break the material up into a few days instead of one or two,” Miller said.

Taking part in the Flame Challenge is a wonderful way for 5th and 6th grade students to learn about evaluating scientific theories, as well as encourage their natural curiosity. Register your classes to be judges this year at flamechallenge.org. This year’s Flame Challenge question is “What is Sound?” The winning entries are announced at the World Science Festival, held every year in New York City.

The Flame Challenge’s sponsors are major nonprofit scientific societies. The American Chemical Society is charted by the U.S. Congress and is a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research. The American Association for the Advancement of Science is the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society and publisher of the weekly global science journal, Science.

Contact the Flame Challenge staff at flamechallenge@stonybrook.edu

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Leave a Reply

LATEST POST

CSTA Endorses March for Science

Posted: Monday, March 27th, 2017

The California Science Teachers Association (CSTA) stands with our science and science education colleagues in endorsing the March For Science and its associated activities.

The decision by the CSTA Board of Directors to support the March for Science was based on the understanding that this is an opportunity to advocate for our mission of high quality science education for all and to advance the idea that science has application to everyday life, is a vehicle for lifelong learning, and the scientific enterprise expands our knowledge of the world around us. The principles and goals of the March for Science parallel those of CSTA to assume a leadership role in solidarity with our colleagues in science and science education and create an understanding of the value of science in the greater community. CSTA believes that the integrity of the nature of science and that the work of scientists and science educators should be valued and supported. We encourage your participation to stand with us.

There are over 30 satellite marches planned for the April 22, 2017 March for Science in California (to find a march near you, click on “marches” in the upper right of the main page, select “satellite marches” and use the search feature). We encourage members who participate in the March for Science to share their involvement and promotion of science and science education. Feel free to promote CSTA on your signs and banners. For those on social media, you may share your involvement via Twitter, @cascience and our Facebook groups.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

California Science Curriculum Framework Now Available

Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.

For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Call for CSTA Awards Nominations

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Call for Volunteers – CSTA Committees

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

Volunteer

CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

A Friend in CA Science Education Now at CSTA Region 1 Science Center

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.