May 2017
Youth Matters

4-H Extension Corner: 4-Hinnovators

A creative new curriculum propels curiosity into a world of science, technology and opportunities.


In an ever-changing world, educators and students often struggle to keep up with changing technology and increased demands for skill development in the classroom.

Alabama 4-H Program Director Dr. Molly Gregg and a team of Alabama Cooperative Extension System Creative Specialists saw a need and worked together to develop a program to bring science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, to youth ages 9-18.

The result – a program called 4-Hinnovators, or 4-Hi – a completely digital four-course curriculum enhanced with multimedia pieces to make program planning and teaching easy for educators and engaging for youth.


Bringing Positive Change to Alabama’s Education System

The need to provide an enhanced STEM program is not a conversation new to Alabama educators.

"For our nation to be economically robust and globally competitive, our young people must be an educated, creative and powerful workforce," Gregg said. "It’s not just important to our nation, it is important to our families and communities – especially to the young people."

Alabama Extension Media Production Specialist David McCormick worked with the seven-person team to develop characters mirroring everyday kids. The 4-Hi heroes come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives.

"The 4-Hi characters represent what heroes might actually look and sound like if they stepped forward," McCormick said. "They’d be the kids who use their brains and skills to make communities a better place for those around them. That’s the cool – and relevant – idea behind the 4-Hi team. They could be someone you already know."

Using inquiry-based learning, 4-Hi provides new ways for youth to discover scientific concepts and expand critical thinking skills in the medical and health care field. 4-Hi also equips educators with the tools to engage young people in STEM-based activities, propelling their curiosity into a world of science, technology and possibilities.

Bruce Dupree, Alabama Extension Creative Services Manager, is the program illustrator. The characters – BiO, Edge, Pi and Willz – all have abilities associated with science, technology, engineering and math.

"I deliberately chose clothing and hairstyles that would connect with the audience," Dupree said. "The characters were designed to be slightly older than middle school students because we wanted the youth to look up to these characters as mentors."


4-Hi CurriculumDevelops STEM Interest

Conecuh County 4-Hinnovators are Movin’ and Groovin’ with 4-Hi Goes Fast!


According to Teach for America, just 1 in 4 fourth-graders from low-income backgrounds is proficient in math, and just 1 in 6 is proficient in science. By 2018, 8 million STEM jobs will be available in the United States, but the vast majority of U.S. students will be unprepared to fill them.

Kim Graham, an Alabama Extension Communications Specialist, said Alabama 4-H is committed to meeting this need.

Graham, a program content specialist and copywriter, said the 4-Hi team knew it needed to go beyond lecture into engaging, rich and hands-on activities – it needed to address real world issues and challenges in order to be meaningful.

"4-Hi is a happy marriage between art and science," Graham said. "The strong, inquiry-based science content provided by Alabama 4-H, in conjunction with the art and design created by Extension Creative Services has launched 4-Hi into national focus. Educators are attracted to the bright colors and diverse characters, and stay engaged because of the strength of the curriculum and what it can provide."

To date, 22 of 67 Alabama counties have participated in 4-Hi with 3,212 participants. Over 1,071 4-Hi engineering design prototypes have been built and tested. Course completion reveals an improvement in many areas of STEM development, including the ability to solve a problem based on an engineering challenge and an ability to envision a career in engineering.

Housed in Instructure’s Canvas Catalogue Learning Management System, the curriculum is divided into four graphic novel issues. Each issue has two chapters: the Common Experience and the Inquiry Experience. The first chapter is teacher led, ensuring the understanding of a concept before moving on. The Inquiry Experience allows teams of youth to build on the previous chapter by planning and imagining a solution to an engineering problem.

"With 4-Hinnovators, we believe we can prepare young people for their futures through the tradition of hands-on learning," Gregg said. "4-Hi helps educators create comfortable, exciting and inclusive learning environments where every kid can discover their own potential to look for answers."

For more information on 4-Hi, visit


Katie Nichols is in Communications and Marketing with Alabama Cooperative Extension System.