Alan Alda, known in his non-Hollywood existence as a proponent of making tricky scientific concepts accessible and understandable for children, has issued this year’s “Flame Challenge,” daring researchers to decipher the mysteries of sleep in kid-friendly language. For the fourth year running, the actor-turned-professor is continuing his quest to demystify the dense scientific terminology that dominates many classrooms and scientific studies which do nothing to further children’s true understanding of science. He says that by the time children reach the pre-teen years, they want clear answers to complicated questions that go beyond a rote list of big words they do not truly understand. As the goal is to create a simple, understandable answer to which children can relate, children will be the judge of the best answer from among the submissions by scientists around the world.
Issued by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, the motivation for the yearly contest and its name come from an unhelpful answer Alda received from a science teacher when he was 11-years old regarding the nature of a flame. He says he never got a satisfactory answer and wants to encourage teachers and researchers to declutter the field of the lingo that alienates children’s curiosity about science from the exciting discoveries to be made in scientific discovery. In the spirit of clarity and making science accessible to children, the answers should be comprehensive and accurate but free of jargon and big words without explanation that only leave the children more confused while simultaneously avoiding talking down to children or watering down the truth.
The challenge has tackled such questions as the nature of time and the concept of color. The explanations have been judged by approximately 27,000 students who know best what makes sense to children. Any scientist, anywhere in the world, whether a grad student or lead lab researcher, is welcome to submit a kid-friendly written, visual or video explanation that deciphers sleep by Feb. 13, 2015. The researchers’ entries will be screened for scientific accuracy by a scientific panel before being released for judging by this year’s crew of 11-year olds. Scientists wanting more information on taking up Alan Alda’s dare can visit the Flame Challenge website. Teachers can also register classes to vote on the entries.
The challenge will offer two $1,000 cash prizes, one for a written entry and one for a video or graphic entry selected by the youth panel as the most appealing to children. The winners will also receive a trip to New York City to meet Alan Alda in May 2015. While there, they will be honored guests at the World Science Festival.
Alda hopes for a wide cross-section of entries from a variety of scientific fields. For those who are not sure what 11-year olds will like, Alda dares them to take some time to talk to one and get to know their audience. Alda encourages scientists to have fun with the challenge and expects he will learn as much as the children have from the submissions as researchers are competing to decipher sleep understandable to kids.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
KOLO 8 ABC News Now
Image courtesy of Tamara Christine Van Hooser