Coding Life Skills – Using Technology And Coding to Teach 4-H Youth Life Skills

4-Hers coding the Sphero Bolt to move in a maze.
4-Hers coding the Sphero Bolt to move in a maze.

When most people hear about 4-H, they don’t automatically associate 4-H with coding and technology.  Additionally, an abundance of screen time for youth is often discouraged. However, the educational value that coding can facilitate when it comes to life skill development must not be overlooked. I am here to advocate that coding and technology programs can be a great addition to our 4-H programs to help facilitate life skills within our Targeting Life Skills Model.

Recently, I taught a short-term 4-H SPIN (special interest) club called 4-H Learns to Code with Sphero with 12 youth.  We met for 7 sessions during a 5 week timeframe to learn the basics of coding through the Sphero Bolt robots.  Throughout this journey, the kids developed a block-based code to drive their Sphero through a maze, learn about loops and variables in codes, write in JavaScript, and learned about IT career paths.  While it was amazing to see the youth develop more content knowledge and increased positivity about STEM through the club, the most rewarding area was witnessing the life skills developed through the coding of Sphero Bolts.  Half of the participants demonstrated an increase in both critical thinking and teamwork skills, and 42% demonstrated an increase in communication skills.  These skills are not only a part of our Targeting Life Skills Model, but they are 21st Century Skills that Sphero indicated are most important to succeed in today’s workplace and society regardless of career field (Vaden, 2020).

4-Hers work on coding their Sphero Bolts.
4-Hers work on coding their Sphero Bolts.

So, why the Sphero Bolts? 

As someone who doesn’t have a formal computer science background and was also intimidated by the idea of coding, I wanted to find something that would peak the interest of our 4-Hers, which was also reasonable for me to understand and teach.  In my needs assessment, both parents and youth indicated a high interest in learning about coding and technology, but stated there were not many opportunities to learn outside of school.  Multiple coding platforms and resources exist to teach youth these vital skills.  Based on feedback from Julia Kelly, a fellow 4-H agent, and some additional research, I opted to utilize the Sphero Bolt robots.  If you are considering adding coding and technology to your 4-H or youth program, here are some reasons why Sphero might be a great fit for your program:

  1. One of Sphero’s core values is that play is a powerful teacher.  I witnessed this firsthand when the kids shared that driving the Bolts was like playing Mario Cart.  In fact, many of the kids were drawn to the club and the program because it looked like (and it is) fun!
  2. Sphero already has 1,000 hours of activities built into the SpheroEdu App. The app contains standards-align curriculum.  Additionally, the app contains curriculum that uses Sphero robots to enhance science, math, social studies, arts, and English language arts lesson plans.  I am most excited to be able to utilize Sphero Bolts to enhance some in-class science lessons around forces and motions and life sciences.
  3. The lesson plans are easy to teach and are scalable to all ages. My club members were predominantly ages 8-14.  Sphero has both curriculum and robots that are geared toward youth of all ages.
  4. The training and support from Sphero is there! Thanks to generous grants from the Clay Electric Foundation, Inc. and the McDonald’s Golden Grants Program, we were able to fund the initial Sphero Bolt Robots and iPads used in the program.  I also purchased the Sphero Fundamentals Self-Guided Course to teach me how to work the Sphero Bolts and the SpheroEdu App.  Whenever a question about the Sphero Bolt arose during our club sessions that I couldn’t answer, I would reach out to the Sphero team and would receive a prompt reply.
4-Hers learning about the internal hardware of a computer.
4-Hers learned about the internal hardware of a computer from one of our guest speakers.

In our roll-out of the Sphero program, we’ve been able to reach 39 youth so far.  We are excited to expand our offering of the program and help more youth code essential life skills.



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Posted: October 5, 2023

Category: 4-H & Youth, , Clubs & Volunteers
Tags: Clay County, STEM, Youth

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