November 11, 2010

4-H Grows the Next Generation of Scientists

Jean Rogalsky, 4-H Youth Development Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Today ‘s 4-H Youth Development Program has grown from its agricultural roots to include learning opportunities in subjects like robotics, bio-fuels, alternative energy, climate change, computer science and rocketry. Today, one of the three national initiatives in the 4-H program is 4-H Science, formerly known as 4-H SET. One goal of the initiative is to prepare youth to become the next generation of scientists.

The United States is facing global technological challenges with a shortage of scientists. A recent study showed that only eighteen percent of U.S. high school seniors are proficient in science and only five percent of current U.S. college graduates earn a degree in science, engineering, or technology. These percentages are even more startling when compared to 66 percent of college graduates in Japan and 59 percent in China.

To meet the need for an increase in science and technology professionals, 4-H set the goal of engaging one million new youth in science programs by 2013. Nationally, 4-H Science programs reach more than 5 million youth with hands-on learning experiences in the sciences.

4-H Science is an initiative and not a set program. While more and more 4-H members and groups are using the newer curricula in robotics, computer science, or Project Butterfly WINGS, the older project materials are being used as well. Much of 4-H project work is based in science, but science has not always been stressed. For example, 4-H entomology projects have taught 4-H members to identify, collect, or control insects, but Project Butterfly Wings, teaches youth to become citizen scientists by observing and collecting butterfly data and then sending the data to partnering scientists through group web pages.

A favorite project for the past several years is “Rockets Away” developed by the Ohio State University Extension. This project explores the science behind rocketry through activities that illustrate Newton’s Laws of Motion. The materials used are common, inexpensive supplies, such as straws, balloons, and basketballs; or recyclables such as soda cans or bottles. In fact, the body of the rocket is a 2-liter soda bottle. As the group goes through the activities, they are asked to think as scientists and collect, analyze, and compare data. Then they are asked to think of ways they observe these laws in every day life.

In case you were wondering, here are Newton’s Laws of Motion:

• Newton’s First Law – Objects at rest will stay at rest, or objects in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Think of a punter kicking a football.

• Newton’s Second Law – The acceleration of an object is directly related to the force exerted on that object and oppositely related to the mass of that object. This is why rocket engines are in stages and separate from the rocket after they are spent.

• Newton’s Third Law – For every action there is always an opposite and equal reaction. This is why a lawn sprinkler spins.
To see the Rockets Away project in action, come to the 4-H Open House November 6 at Pinellas County Extension. The Open House is from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. While there will be rocketry activities throughout the day, the rocketry workshop will start at 1:30.

4-H Science information from

For more information on the Rockets Away project book:

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