GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When was the last time your child programmed a robot, raised a chicken or entered a bug collecting contest?
With more public schools focused on raising students’ test scores, there may be fewer opportunities in the classroom to explore science in a hands-on way, said Heather Kent, regional specialized agent for the University of Florida IFAS Extension Florida 4-H Youth Development Program.
Public education may have changed over the years, but 4-H is still one way kids can “learn by doing,” Kent said.
“We see science as a means to a positive end for young people. ‘Doing science’ requires young people to pay attention to things, make observations, collect information, think critically, problem solve and come to their own conclusions,” said Karen Blyler, Florida 4-H science coordinator.
Florida 4-H, part of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, began over 100 years ago as a way to introduce youth to the latest technology and research around food production and preservation, Kent said.
Today, 4-H science curriculum includes robotics, computer science, environmental science, animal science, entomology and a handful of other topics, Blyler said.
Currently, only 20 percent of Florida’s college graduates earn degrees in science and engineering. If the state and the county want to keep pace with global innovation, this percentage needs to increase, Blyler said.
4-H science programs aim to engage more youth in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and inspire them to pursue careers in those fields. In 2016, more than 132,000 youth participated in STEM-related projects through 4-H.
“The greatest impact of 4-H science programs is seeing a young person receive a college scholarship because of their work in 4-H, or land their dream job because 4-H inspired their love for a particular industry,” Kent said. “So many of our alumni credit 4-H as setting them up for success as an employee, public servant and citizen.”
But learning science also has more immediate effects. It’s a chance for kids to be adventurous and break out of their shells.
“We don’t let children see or feel failure like they might in school, but instead we let them learn from their mistakes and encourage them to try again,” Blyler said. “So if a child is initially intimidated about building a rocket, he or she might see others mess up yet keep trying, and might gain confidence to try something new.”
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.