January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

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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STEM Conference Hosted by CMSESMC

Posted: Saturday, January 14th, 2017

The Council of Math/Science Educators of San Mateo County will be hosting the 41st annual STEM Conference this February 4, 2017 at the San Mateo County Office of Education. This STEM Conference is the place to get lots of new lessons and ideas to use in your classroom. There will be over twenty-five workshops and a variety of exhibitors that provide participants with a wide range of practical and realistic ideas and resources to use in their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs from Pre-K to grade 12. With California’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, we are dedicated to ensuring that we prepare our teachers to take on these educational policies.

Teachers, administrators, and parents are invited to explore the many exciting aspects of STEM education and learn about and discuss the latest news, information, and issues. This is also an opportunity to network with colleagues who can assist you in building your programs and meet new friends that share your interests and love of teaching. Register online today!

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.

Submit Your NGSS Lessons and Units Today!

Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017

Achieve has launched and is facilitating an EQuIP Peer Review Panel for Science–a group of expert reviewers who will evaluate the quality and alignment of lessons and units to the standards–in an effort to identify and shine a spotlight on emerging high-quality lesson and unit plans designed for the NGSS.

If you or your state, district, school, or organization has designed NGSS-aligned instructional materials, please consider submitting these in order to help provide educators across the country with various models and templates of high-quality lesson and unit plans. 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.

Opportunity for High School Students – Los Angeles County

Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017

An upcoming Perry Outreach Program on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at the Orthopaedic Institute for Children in Los Angeles, CA. The Perry Outreach Program is a free, one-day, hands-on experience for high school and college-aged women who are interested in pursuing careers in medicine and engineering. Students will hear from women leaders in these fields and try it for themselves by performing mock orthopaedic surgeries and biomechanics experiments. 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.

Science Education Policy Update

Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

January 2017 has proven to be a very busy month for science education policy and CA NGSS implementation activities. CSTA has been and will be there every step of the way, seeking and enacting all options to support high-quality science education and the successful implementation of CA NGSS.

California Department of Education/U.S. Department of Education Science Double-Testing Waiver Hearing

The year started with California Department of Education’s (CDE) hearing with the U.S. Department of Education conducted via WebEx on January 6, 2017. This hearing was the final step in California’s efforts to secure a waiver from the federal government in order to discontinue administration of the old CST and suspension of the reporting of student test scores on a science assessment for two years. As reported by EdSource, the U.S. Department of Education representative, Ann Whalen, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary John King Jr., committed to making her final ruling “very shortly.” Deputy Superintendent Keric Ashley presented on behalf of CDE during the hearing and did an excellent job describing the broad-based support for this waiver in California, the rationale for the waiver, and California’s commitment to the successful implementation of a new high-quality science assessment. As previously reported, California is moving forward with its plans to administer a census pilot assessments this spring. The testing window is set to open on March 20, 2017. For more information visit New CA Science Test: What You Should Know.

Learn More…

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Written by Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko is CSTA’s Executive Director.

NSTA Los Angeles Conference Features Many CA Science Leaders

Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

The early-bird registration rates for the 65th NSTA National Conference on Science Education in Los Angeles is just days away (ends Feb. 3). And as the early-registration deadline approaches excitement is building for what is anticipated to be the largest gathering of science educators (both California and nationwide) – with attendance expected to reach 10,000 or more. If you have never had the pleasure of attending the NSTA National Conference, I recommend you visit their website with tips for newcomers that describe the various components of the event. A conference preview is also available for download. Learn More…

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Written by Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko is CSTA’s Executive Director.