September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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.

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State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Cal

This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. 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.