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As online learning adds stress, 4-H helps Florida schools, students keep science fun

4-H agent Grace Carter was all set to teach embryology at 10 Jacksonville elementary schools this spring. She had an incubator for fertilized chicken eggs and planned several fun, hands-on activities for students in the classroom.

But last month, Carter became one of the many teachers across the country with an unexpected dose of stress in their lesson plans. As the coronavirus pandemic created a new normal of online learning and working from home, she had to switch gears quickly.

“The UF/IFAS Extension Duval County office moved to online services, and I thought about bringing an incubator home and recording updates teachers could send to students,” Carter said.

But once the chicks hatched, she wouldn’t be able to keep them in her city apartment. So Carter teamed up with Jessica Altum Cooper, a 4-H agent in Gilchrist County, who had access to an incubator, fertilized eggs and space.

Together, Carter, Cooper and other 4-H agents and specialists around the state are creating online videos documenting the 21-day development of the humble chicken egg to support the science education of hundreds of Florida students in the time of COVID-19.

“I hope the program sparks an interest in life science and the agriculture industry. The students should walk away with a better understanding of how embryos develop, the type of environment fertile eggs need for a successful hatch and general knowledge of basic poultry science,” Carter said.

Carter and Cooper launched their virtual 4-H embryology program this week, just in time for holidays like Easter and Passover where eggs take center stage.

“So far, 12 classrooms in Duval County and six in Gilchrist have signed up, and we’re now opening the program up to the public,” Carter said. Registration for this free virtual embryology program is available on Eventbrite.

The program has four components:

  • Daily videos with vocabulary, embryo development, and general embryology/chicken information
  • “Egg-stra” activity videos with experiments and challenges kids can complete at home
  • Lessons assigned by teachers from the 4-H Eggcellent Adventures and Experiments in Poultry Science curricula
  • A live stream of eggs incubating provided by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln county Extension office

In Madison County, 4-H agent Beth Moore was also planning to teach embryology in local schools starting at the end of March. Now she’s put her class online, and each video she’s posted has been viewed at least 300 times on Facebook. That’s no small feat in a county of about 19,000 people.

Anyone can view the videos and participate by following the UF/IFAS Extension 4-H Madison County Facebook page.

“I do not have the best internet service at my home, so this has been a small challenge. But being able to connect with our youth through the online format has been fun! The youth and adults have really enjoyed the videos and said they are learning something with each video,” Moore said.

To participate in online 4-H embryology programs, youth aren’t required to have an incubator, fertile eggs or chickens of their own. However, for youth in rural areas or where local ordinances allow backyard chickens, that is an option, Carter said.

“The City of Jacksonville allows residents to keep backyard flocks if they attend a class taught by the Extension office and apply for a permit,” Carter said. Learn more about these classes on the UF/IFAS Extension Duval County website.

“Those who participate in the virtual embryology program can also participate in the Pullet Project, which starts right after the virtual program ends. In the pullet project, youth raise five chicks over the summer to show and auction at the Greater Jacksonville Fair in the fall.”

Carter will send all embryology participants information on raising backyard chickens, the Pullet Project, and the opportunity to join 4-H.

“Families having access to fresh, readily available eggs is a big draw, and I think in times like these with the added stress and anxiety, people like a sure way to provide for their families,” Cooper said.

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