May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HappyAtoms

Please contact Rosanne Luu at rluu@wested.org or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.