Over the past several years, school districts, educators, and the U.S. Department of Education have emphasized the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) instruction. One particular area of interest has been increasing the diversity of people who pursue careers in STEM fields. As a result, many national youth organizations have begun emphasizing programs that bring STEM education to youth across the United States, including those from underrepresented groups. The Girl Scouts of America is one of these organizations, in its case bringing STEM education to girls. 4-H is another organization with a commitment to STEM education.
4-H is a national youth organization affiliated with cooperative extension offices around the country. These cooperative extension offices combine the resources of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 100 universities, and more than 3,000 county offices to reach out to youth through 4-H clubs. Founded more than 100 years ago, 4-H originally emphasized leadership and active learning for children in rural areas. While retaining these areas of focus, today the organization also works to bring STEM education to underrepresented youth, with a particular emphasis on both rural and urban areas.
4-H offers a variety of STEM programs that include activities in environmental science, alternative energy, robotics, rocketry, computer science, electrical engineering, agricultural science, veterinary science, biotechnology, animal husbandry, and forestry. These programs are offered through 4-H clubs for youth aged 8-18, with separate 4-H Cloverbud clubs for youth aged 5-7. However, 4-H also makes many of its programs available to the public through its website. Read on to learn about a few of these programs in more detail.
STEM Lab offers a collection of activities designed to inspire an interest in science and experimentation. Activities include stringing LED lights and watch batteries into a light-up necklace, growing a bean plant in a bottle, building a robot capable of drawing abstract designs, making a foaming fountain, creating a battery out of fruit, constructing a windmill that can lift weights, and designing race cars and race car tracks. These activities are tailored to a variety of age groups, ranging from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, and all emphasize active learning. 4-H and Cloverbud club leaders might introduce these activities during club meetings, or families are welcome to try them at home by accessing them on the 4-H website.
Tech Wizards is an afterschool 4-H club program for youth in grades 4-12. Originally started in Oregon, the program partners underserved youth with technology mentors from the local community. Mentors introduce 4-H members to tech-related skills and topics like website development, video and podcast production, GPS technology, and robotics. One key learning outcome of the program is applying high-tech skills to real-world situations. Youth participants thus give back to their communities by participating in technology-based service projects that fill a need in the local area.
In one project, 4-H Tech Wizards participants who had received tech mentoring provided assistance to older adults in the community who needed help learning how to use newer technologies like tablets and text messaging. Another service project created a mobile technology lab equipped with laptops, printers, digital cameras, and projectors to serve residents of a county where many lack access to these technologies.
The 4-H robotics program is a partnership with National Geographic. Club members view videos about robotics engineering and participate in active learning activities. Using simple objects such as balloons, ping-pong balls, wooden chopsticks, binder clips, clothespins, craft sticks, and paper clips, youth build functioning robots. For those who are not 4-H members, a kit is available for purchase on the 4-H website. The main learning outcomes for the robotics program include teamwork, problem-solving, and creative thinking, which are all vital skills in the STEM workforce.
For six years, 4-H has offered a National Youth Summit Series for high school students. These summits offer active learning opportunities and the chance to interact with leaders in a variety of fields. Three of the four summits offered during the 2018-19 school year focus on STEM disciplines. The Maker Summit focuses on innovation, experimentation, and creative building; the Agri-Science Summit focuses on agriculture, food security, and sustainability; and the Healthy Living Summit focuses on nutrition, physical fitness, wellness, and emotional health. Each summit lasts four days, takes place in Washington, DC, and features an evening tour of several national monuments and memorials.
National Youth Science Day
National Youth Science Day is in its 11th year of bringing STEM education to youth across the country. Taking place each October, the annual event features a different theme each year. Past themes have included water conservation with hydrogels, water quality, renewable energy in the form of wind power, robotics for environmental cleanup, rocketry, drone engineering, and wearable fitness trackers. In partnership with Google, this year’s theme is computer coding. Designed for youth aged 8-14, the event will feature both computer-based and low-tech activities. Outcomes include skills relevant to diverse STEM employment fields ranging from agriculture to technology.