December 2017
Youth Matters

4-H Extension Corner: Recognized Innovation in STEM Education

Alabama 4-H wins NAE4-H Interactive Educational Website Award.

  The 4-Hinnovator program loaded on a computer.

Alabama 4-H was selected a national winner for the Interactive 4-H Educational Website Award. The Alabama team was recognized Nov. 16 at the NAE4-H Awards Banquet in Indianapolis, Indiana.

"It is a pleasure for the member recognition committee to witness your expertise and professionalism. Your efforts are appreciated and recognized for the contribution they make to our clientele – especially the youth and volunteers who participate in 4-H. Your efforts also build youth development in general and those of us who serve in its ranks as professionals," said Eric Larsen, NAE4-H member recognition chair.


Alabama Team Members

Members of the Alabama Extension team included Dr. Molly Gregg, 4-H program leader; Kimberly Graham, communications specialist; Bruce Dupree, creative services manager; David McCormick, media production specialist; Aimee Lewis, marketing manager; and Brynne McCormick, 4-H youth member and voice actor for the project.

"The 4-Hi program is unique from the ground up," said Emery Tschetter, director of Extension communications and marketing. "It is based on exceptionally creative communication techniques to train leaders.

"In addition to the award from the NAE4-H Agents, it has been recognized by communication and education groups across the nation for its creative and interactive approach."


Program Mandate

According to Gregg, when Alabama wanted to create a full-scale STEM curriculum for youth ages 9-18, they turned to the creative team at Alabama Extension to bring the content to life.

"The mandate was to reduce print costs and increase innovation in program delivery. The result was 4-Hinnovators, a completely digital, four-course curriculum enhanced with multimedia pieces that make program planning and teaching easy for educators and engaging for youth audiences," she said.


Website Promotes the Program and Serves as a Portal

A website promoting the program provides a source of information for new and upcoming products. In designing the website graphics, the objective was to establish a cohesive look to the brand using color, illustration and animation to attract both educators and youth audiences. Through the creation of a focused and visual portal for the promotion of 4-Hinnovators, Extension is able to funnel the public to a single information source that both educates and serves as a portal to the online courses.

Gregg said the key audience for the 4-Hi website is science educators and 4-H agents who will implement the curriculum with youth, particularly those in middle schools. According to Teach for America, just 1-4 fourth-graders from low-income backgrounds is proficient in math and only 1-6 is proficient in science.

By 2018, 8 million jobs in science, technology, engineering and math will be available in the United States, but the vast majority of U.S. students will be unprepared to fill them. The 4-Hi website provides educators with resources to turn these numbers around.


4-Hinnovator Curriculum

"Many factors were considered in designing the website graphics," Gregg added.

The 4-Hinnovator curriculum has four separate courses covering a wide variety of science and engineering fields.

Designed as modern-day graphic novels, each course is divided into four lessons. The graphic novel approach was specifically used to engage, entertain and educate young people. Color is used to identify the program as a whole as well as each of the four courses – gold being the brand standard, and red, blue, green and purple designating individual courses.

Gregg says the diverse characters were created to be relatable science heroes for youth audiences. They also are used to introduce the various forms of science, technology, engineering and math featured in the curriculum. As the team leader, the D.I.L.A. character was designed and animated as a guide for educators as they navigate the 4-Hi curriculum.


Program Now in 11 States

Through the website and promotional efforts, 4-Hinnovators has expanded to 11 states, doubling the target goal of new state participation. Over 12,000 people have been in direct contact with the program through these efforts. Web content has an average engagement time of five minutes with some people staying on the site for as long as 10 minutes.


Donna Reynolds is the communication editor of news and public affairs with ACES in Auburn.