Introducing the Popular Science/InnoCentive Education Challenge

Popular Science and InnoCentive invite readers to invent a better way to teach science

It’s time to get the next generation of scientists thinking about what’s important, and you can help. Below are five education challenges chosen by the editors of Popular Science in partnership with InnoCentive, an open-innovation and crowdsourcing firm. We invite you to devise a simple lesson plan for one or more of them. Each plan should be directed at middle-school students, involve at most three 50-minute sessions, and require less than $50 in materials. The most engrossing, informative and easily replicated approach in each area will earn you a cash reward—and the chance to see your work implemented in classrooms across the country. Visit our Open Innovation Pavilion to register.

POLYMERS

Every aspect of human industry, from manufacturing to medicine, incorporates materials created from polymers. Teach students how repeated structural units can be assembled to make something useful, or perhaps how the physical properties of a polymer change with its size.

BIOMIMETIC DESIGN

Engineers have long suspected that the best design ideas already exist in nature. Create a lesson plan that explores and perhaps imitates the design of a naturally occurring phenomenon, such as the motion of fish fins, the resilience of wood, the gait of a human, or other surprisingly excellent mechanisms.

BIG DATA

People are producing an overwhelming deluge of information. How will we use search engines and filtering technology alongside human intuition to derive meaning from it? The lesson plan should combine hard statistics with student observations to show how we can usefully interpret large data sets.

CLIMATE CHANGE

How can humans adjust their own way of life to cope with rising temperatures and shifting landscapes across the globe? Teach students about the nature of climate change with a lesson plan that challenges them to propose various adaptations to its consequences.

FUEL CELLS

What will power vehicles and homes in the future? The lesson plan should demonstrate the potential of fuel cells, perhaps by explaining their chemical basis or how they function within a larger mechanism.