Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.
Q. How will the Flame Challenge entries be judged?
A. There are three steps. First, the entries will be screened for accuracy by scientists. Then, classes of schoolchildren will evaluate the screened entries, with each class considering five entries. Each child will be asked to rate the entries on five criteria. To see the rating form, click here. Teachers will compile their students’ ratings and submit them to us. Last year, more than 6,000 children in 130 schools participated in the judging. We had judging schools all over the United States and in several other countries. Based on the students’ ratings, Finalists will be chosen and posted on the FlameChallenge.org website. The student judges will then vote for their favorite among the Finalists.
Q. Do I have to be a scientist to enter?
A. Yes, this contest is for scientists. We define that pretty broadly — as someone who has, or is in the process of getting, a graduate degree in a science (including health sciences, engineering and mathematics), or who is employed doing scientific work, or who is retired from doing scientific work. Our mission at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science is to help scientists communicate better to the public.
Q. Do I have to be in the United States to enter?
A. No, we welcome entries from scientists in any country. Last year, we received entries from 30 countries outside the United States.
Q. When is the deadline for entries?
A. The deadline is 11:59 pm (EST) March 1, 2013.
Q. Will you tell me what rating my entry received from the student judges? Will you tell me if my entry was ruled out by the scientific screeners?
A. No, we don’t have the resources to give individual feedback. At the end of the judging period, we will post the Finalist and Honorable Mention entries and contact the people who submitted them.
Q. How can I improve my chances of winning?
A. Give thought and attention to the factual accuracy of your answer and to the needs of your audience – 11 year-olds. If you can, try your answer out on some 11-year-olds and see how they react. Look at the criteria students will be using to judge it [click here]. Watch a video of student judges last year discussing entries [click here]. If you don’t have a sense of 11-year-olds, you could talk to a teacher or look at books that are intended for this age group. Last year, the first year of the Flame Challenge, students favored entries that contained a good deal of information in simple language. They liked humor, but didn’t like things they thought were silly or condescending. “We’re 11, not seven,” one said. By and large, they took their role as judges seriously.
Q. Can you warn me about any pitfalls?
A. Here’s some advice based on student judges’ reactions to last year’s “what is a flame” entries. Entries that didn’t score very high included super-short answers, such as a one-sentence definition, and purely poetic entries that didn’t provide much factual information.
Q. Can I team up with others on an entry?
A. Yes. We will accept entries from teams of no more than four scientists.
Q. When and where will the winners be announced?
A. We expect to announce the winners in early June, 2013, at the World Science Festival in New York. The winners will be notified confidentially several weeks earlier so we can arrange to bring them to New York for the announcement.
Q. Are all the student judges 11 years old?
A. Most are 11 years old, and are in grade 4, 5 or 6. Some judges will be 10 or 12, if they are in classes with 11-year-olds. The whole class judges; we don’t exclude anyone.
Q. How many people will I be competing against?
A. Last year, the first year of the Flame Challenge, we received 822 entries and named one winner. We hope to get more this year, but we expect to have two winners, for the Written and Visual categories.
For detailed rules, click here.