“Would you be willing to have a go at writing your own explanation of what a flame is — one that an 11-year-old would find intelligible, maybe even fun?” – Alan Alda

The story goes that an 11 year old Alan Alda asked his science teacher a simple question.  “What is a flame?”  The answer “It’s oxidation” left him pretty unsatisfied.  Fast forward – through the 70’s and lots of episodes of Mash.

Alda is now a founding member of the Stony Brook University Center for Communicating Science, Alda has a challenge to all scientists to answer his burning question – in a way that an 11 year old would walk away happy.  Fufilled even. His challenge opens a month-long contest whose entries — in writing, video or graphics —are to be judged by 11-year-olds. I was quite eager to go on the  The Flame Challenge website. My colleague pointed me in this direction, and I spent a good amount of time thinking about how I, as a science teacher, would answer that same question.  Then it hit me.  I teach 11 year olds.  I wanted them to be part of this somehow. So, I wrote an email. My class of 11 year olds just got their first gig as panel judges. We were accepted to receive 10 entries, from all over the world, from all scientific disciplines, from all angles. I cannot wait to see what is in store for us and this process begins.




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