November 2013
Youth Matters

4-H Extension Corner: What’s Happening in Your Community?

  What better way to learn about engineering and water than to see how the two go hand in hand? This group of budding 4-H engineers got a behind-the-scenes tour of the Wilcox County Power Plant and Dam.

by Chuck Hill

Several years ago, Alabama 4-H introduced a slogan: 4-H is Where You Live. That means the greatest impact of 4-H does not come from participation in national or state events. The real impact comes from clubs and communities in every corner of our great state. It comes from the dozens of dedicated volunteers and staff who are the "caring, committed adults" who do make a difference in the lives of young people.

A quick look around the state shows some wonderful examples of what is going on in 4-H where you live.

Wilcox County

Wilcox County Extension and 4-H wanted to make young people more aware of the power of engineering to change the world and change their lives. They held a two-day engineering camp for fifth and sixth graders, giving them some difficult challenges doing things like building boats and designing irrigation systems. It was a totally "hands-on" approach to learning where students didn’t learn rote answers; they discovered their own potential to look for answers.

How can you get your barge full of beans down a mighty river? These 4-H Innovators are testing the boat they designed to make sure it would float and carry its load.  

County Extension Coordinator Pam Stenz, Regional 4-H Extension Agents Wendy Padgett and Susan Thompson, and James Miles, regional Extension agent in Home Grounds and Gardens, introduced the 4-H Innovators to pressing engineering issues facing our state such as the importance of water. That led to tours of a power plant and dam followed by the young people’s own water engineering challenge.

Other engineering challenges involved such real-life issues as the safe transportation of food from the field to the grocery store and the design and manufacture of ships and boats. Equally appropriate to Wilcox County and Alabama, the youth even used good engineering practices such as testing and the development of prototypes to design a machine that a farmer could use to accurately and economically plant seeds.

During this two-day engineering camp, students were encouraged to think outside of the box and create solutions to everyday problems.

"The students really enjoyed being engineers. With limited guidance and interference from the staff, this group of fifth and sixth graders used their imaginations to create wonderful designs they were very proud of. I hope we can continue to use this ‘hands-on’ approach to teaching during our monthly 4-H meetings in our local schools," Stenz said.

Walker County

  This young 4-Her is participating in the Alabama  4-H Water Watch Aquatic Science program.

Hands-on science was also the theme of the 4-H Summer Exploration Camp in Walker County. In addition to the engineering activities and processes, the Walker County 4-H youth had an opportunity to revisit the timeless joys of getting their feet wet and playing with water critters. As a group effort led by county, regional and state cooperative Extension staff, young people learned about testing the safety of water through the outstanding Alabama 4-H Water Watch Aquatic Science curriculum.

Walker County has a history of mine engineering. Perhaps no engineers had such a “sweet” task as this duo challenged with mining chocolate chip cookies and reclaiming the crumbs.  

Did you know the kinds of water animals that live in a stream are an indicator of how healthy the water is and whether it is safe for a community water supply or to irrigate crops? Water can be simply and scientifically evaluated by analyzing the different species of animals living in it. For example, a crawfish might tolerate a different level of pollution than some species of insect larvae. By testing the water (and getting to play with crawfish and turtles!), young people learned some very serious science.

To learn more about 4-H where you live, contact your county Alabama Cooperative Extension System office. There are wonderful learning opportunities for young people – and equally grand opportunities for adult volunteers.

Chuck Hill is a 4-H Youth Development Specialist.