Millions of young people across the nation including nearly 2,000 in Alabama are becoming scientists during the 5th Annual 4-H National Youth Science Day initiative. While many of the national activities happened on October 10, Alabama 4-H held activities throughout the month.
NYSD events seek to spark an early youth interest in science and future science careers, and to reclaim the nation’s position of leadership in scientific exploration. As part of 4-H NYSD, youth participated in the 4-H Eco-Bot Challenge: the 2012 National Science Experiment.
More than 120 fifth and sixth graders at W.O. Lance Elementary School in Lanett participated in the challenge and hundreds of other youth in Barbour, Bullock, Chambers, Lee, Tallapoosa and Russell counties participated throughout the month.
Lanett City Schools Superintendent Phillip Johnson said the Eco-Bot challenge is a perfect fit for the academic standards set for fifth and sixth grade students in his system.
"We want to emphasize hands-on learning this year and this program is perfect," Johnson commented.
"I like what I’m seeing. Kids are involved, they are interested and they are having fun – they are learning without realizing it and this program is bringing science and technology to life." W.O. Lance Principal Jamie Heard agreed.
"We want students to have real-life examples of learning by what they are doing and our primary emphasis is how to better include STEM [science, technology, engineering and math]," Johnson said. "From what I saw, 4-H does that."
Alabama 4-H Regional Extension Agent Kirsten Holt, who oversaw the project at W.O. Lance and other schools and 4-H clubs, said the experiment really excites youth.
"Boys and girls have a great time with this project and you can tell they have learned from the challenge," she said. "They are very interested in finding out how something will work better with a design change, how to build something and to see it work. They love figuring out something."
With Holt were five employees of the Donaldson Company facility in Auburn who volunteered to help youth with the experiment. The company’s foundation helped sponsor the national experience and asked its employees to volunteer in communities where they live and work. The Auburn plant employs about 240 workers.
Donaldson employee Joe Gortney said he was glad to help youth participate in a program he enjoyed as a youth in Clay County.
"I remember as a kid doing a lot of 4-H projects. I built a shoebox with my dad that won a prize," he said. "Those are good memories, and it’s good to come help youth have some of those same experiences."
"I have three kids myself and it is good to see youth excited about doing something hands-on that gets them outside the normal classroom environment. Helping children like this is pretty important," Donaldson Human Resources Director Jay Harris agreed.
"I drove to Ridgecrest Elementary in Phenix City with a degree of concern that the kids would be uninterested and unruly. I left with a great appreciation of the capability of the students to follow instructions and build the simple ‘toothbrush robot’ as well as the care, concern, enthusiasm and patience of their teachers. This simple project will be one that the kids remember for the rest of their lives and I am sure it will inspire them to continue their education," Supply Chain Manager David Hall remarked.
Donaldson employees have volunteered at several other Eco-Bot events including one on Oct. 18 at Alexander City Middle School.
This year’s experiment introduced youth to robotic engineering concepts as they program a robot to clean up a simulated environmental spill.
"The 4-H Eco-Bot Challenge demonstrates that by utilizing engineering principles, youth can have a positive impact on communities and ecosystems," Alabama 4-H Science specialist Tony Cook said.
4-H’ers are assembling their own Eco-Bot – using a toothbrush head, a watch battery, a tiny motor, foam mounting tape, and red and black wires. Once they’ve built their Eco-Bot, they will then figure out the best way to use it to clean up an imaginary spill, for this experiment: rice.
"The youth will test how well the Eco-Bot cleaned up the spill, and how their design and various surfaces will create different interactions," Cook added. "They have the challenge of determining the most effective clean-up solution for the simulated spill."
To combat a national shortage of young people pursuing science college majors and occupations and to enhance the nation’s contribution to the sciences, 4-H National Youth Science Day demonstrates that science, engineering, math and technology are fun and attainable options for college degrees and future careers.
Research has shown participation in 4-H programs like 4-H NYSD makes a positive difference in the lives of youth. Youth development scholar Dr. Richard Lerner works with researchers at the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University to conduct "The 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development." The longitudinal study has found, when compared to other youth, young people involved in 4-H are:
· Two times more likely to get better grades in school;
· Two times more likely to plan to go to college;
· Nearly three times more likely to participate in science, engineering or computer technology programs; and
· Three times more likely to make positive contributions to their families and communities.
Overall, the study found the advantages of 4-H participation include higher educational achievement and higher motivation for future education.
Janet McCoy is a 4-H Program Development Coordinator.