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Podcast: Flame Challenge!

Written by Ben Newsome on December 1st, 2017.      0 comments

Dr Johanna Howes on the FizzicsEd podcast

Since 2012 the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science has been running a global competition called The Flame Challenge’. Here, scientists from around the world compete to create a compelling visual or written explanation for a scientific concept, whereby entries are judged by thousands of 11-year-old children! In this episode we chat with Johanna Howes, the visual submission winner of the 2017 question ‘What is Energy’, where we learn why it is so important to make your explanation understandable, interesting and entertaining.

‘Think about what they enjoy, how they think and what they respond to is really important'

The next question for the 2018 competition will be released on December 1, 2017 by Alan Alda on the popular radio show Science Friday.

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Top learnings

  1. Make you science explanations as compelling and as emotive as possible! Don’t just communicate a bland set of facts, make them as interesting and as vibrant as possible.
  2. Break down your explanation into clear steps. Communicate the concepts clearly and with simple visual imagery that allows your audience to connect with what you’re talking about.
  3. Respect your audience. Don’t speak down to them, give them a reason to listen to you.
  4. Be memorable and be fun! You want your presentation to stand out.

Useful Links

  1. More about the Flame Challenge
  2. Sign up for teachers
  3. Sign up for scientists
  4. Johanna’s submission for The Flame Challenge!

  5. Follow the Alda Center on Twitter via @AldaCenter

About Dr Johanna Howes

Johanna Howes

Dr Johanna Howes is a freelance science writer, digital content creator and casual academic at the University of Wollongong. She graduated with First Class Honours in Chemistry from the University of Technology Sydney. After about five years of studying the Great Barrier Reef and tiny algae thought to be the culprit in bleaching events, she was awarded with a PhD.

She switched gears a bit and ran away with the Shell Questacon Science Circus, travelling around Australia and performing science shows for kids. She graduated with a Master of Science Communication (Outreach) with commendation, from the Australian National University in 2016.

This year, she was chosen by about 20,000 primary school children across the globe as the winner of The Flame Challenge. This is a competition where scientists are encouraged to submit either written or visual answers to a question set by the kids. Those same kids then judge the entry! She was flown to New York to meet Mr Alan Alda, the actor and science communicator who started the competition.

Contact details for Johanna Howes

About the FizzicsEd Podcast

With interviews with leading science educators and STEM thought leaders, this science education podcast is about highlighting different ways of teaching kids within and beyond the classroom. It's not just about educational practice & pedagogy, it's about inspiring new ideas & challenging conventions of how students can learn about their world!

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Happy teaching,


Ben Newsome
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