Kids really like this guy!
In 1983, the population of the United States was about 234 million people. And on February 28th of that year 106 million Americans sat down to watch the last episode of M*A*S*H* on CBS. 106 million people!!! Almost half of all of the people in the country (ok 45% go away) all laughing* together at one program. Can you imagine what it must have been like? Cars left abandoned on the sides of highways… whole industries lying fallow for one sweet hour… civilization ground to a halt… mass hysteria, is what I’m saying.
Which is to say: Alan Alda is an accomplished man. At 78, you might imagine him resting content with his unprecedented cultural impact. Instead, he’s founded what I think is just one of the coolest educational ideas I’ve heard of in a while.
It’s called the Flame Contest: every year Alda’s organizations challenges scientists to explain a tricky question to kids. There have been three questions so far: “What is a flame?” in 2012; “what is time?” last year; and “what is color?” currently accepting submissions.
Scientists are invited to send in written or video explanations. And then, the coolest part: the winning submission is chosen by kids! In fact, the questions are chosen by kids as well. It’s a great example of kid-adult collaboration - and I love, specifically, that it doesn’t just connect kids with adults; it connects kids with leading experts in their fields, and encourages those experts to take kids’ ideas and opinions absolutely seriously.
Here is the winning video answering the question, “what is a flame?” It is so good, and it makes so much sense that kids selected it: it’s funny, features a genuinely impressive pop-parody song at the end, and is juuuuuust edgy enough to be surprising. (That guy chained to a wall in a room of fire up there? He does not escape.) Also I know what a flame is now. I am not going to tell you.
I first learned about the Flame Contest in this great article by Dahlia Lithwick at Slate. Read it! Watch the videos! And pass on any other great examples of kid-adult collaboration you find out there.
- Spencer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
*Crying? MASH was a comedy, right?