Providing science-based programming to schools
By Dr. Katherine Clements, Sophia Moundous, Sarah Davis, Lee Hayes Byron, and contributors from all program areas
UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County provides many opportunities for educational programming – not only for adults in our community, but also for youth! Schools, teachers, homeschoolers, and clubs can choose from a variety of topics and educational experiences to enhance their curriculum and provide quality science-based educational experiences for youth. All Extension youth programs fall under the umbrella of the 4-H Youth Development program, which uses a learn-by-doing approach and caring adult volunteers to help youth gain the knowledge and life skills they need to be productive, responsible community members. Our programs are research-based, aligned to school standards, and complement many school educational objectives and curriculum.
Natural Resources Programs
Within the natural resource programs at UF/IFAS Extension, there are many areas of expertise and opportunities for educational programming.
- The waste reduction program provides classroom education on a variety of topics related to reducing food waste and recycling. Online and in-person programs include recycling, plastics reduction, composting and biogas. This program can also aid with implementing school recycling or food waste reduction programs and projects.
- Our water resources program offers classroom education on microplastics awareness and monitoring (for middle to high school).
- Our ecology and natural resources program provides a year-long environmental education program for 3rd-5th grade students that includes in-class and field experiences focused on learning about Florida’s ecosystems and the importance of their conservation. The LIFE (Learning in Florida’s Environment) program has transitioned to providing Science Shorts educational videos during COVID-19.
- Our marine debris program consists of presentations and hands-on clean-up activities that teach about marine debris issues, types, sources, solutions, combined with local cleanup. The program is conducted in partnership with Sarasota County Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources.
- Other opportunities include single programs on snakes, insects, owl pellet dissection, and more!
School Garden and Family Nutrition Programs
- The school gardens program partners with interested schools to provide free seeds and starter plants for in-school gardens, free annual teacher training, and in-school harvest lessons.Hands-on education using the school garden may also be possible depending on volunteer availability. Ideas for starting new gardens, courting school staff/volunteer interest, and curriculum ideas can also be discussed.
- In qualifying schools serving low-income students, the Family Nutrition Program (FNP) provides in-class nutrition education and supports the school gardens with materials and resources, including plants, seeds, soil, compost bins, hand tools and more. In addition, FNP offers free gardening curricula, and an opportunity for school garden leaders to participate in the School Garden Leadership Program.
- The sustainability program provides online and in-person classroom education on a variety of topics related to green living, energy conservation, renewable energy, and careers in sustainability.
- Teachers and students can also participate in the annual Sustainable Communities Workshop. Students can participate as speakers, attendees, and/or exhibitors.
- The program also offers an opportunity to become a volunteer by joining an Energy Coach volunteer training. Volunteers learn energy and water conservation techniques and aid low-income residents.
- Teachers can check out a solar kit from our office for K-12 lessons and activities. The kit includes necessary materials to perform the investigations in the Solar Matters activity units and the Understanding Solar Energy: high school unit. Kits include small solar panels, motors, propellers, magnifying glasses, protractors, thermometers, UV sensitive beads, educational videos, and more.
4-H Life Skills
4-H is the youth development program of UF/IFAS Extension. With 4-H, there is fun in learning and learning is fun! 4-H opportunities for schools include:
- 4-H SPIN club: A Special Interest six hour or more opportunity to introduce youth to a topic and 4-H (e.g. six 1-hour sessions). Possible topics include environmental education, marine science, STEM, ecology, nature, and more. Could be offered during or after school.
- 4-H School Clubs: Clubs can be offered on school property either during or after school hours. Schools generally start with a SPIN club and then see if there is greater interest. Two adult volunteers are needed to organize the group into a chartered club. 4-H club members also have access to event and college scholarships and become eligible to compete in county, district, state and national events.
- 4-H Outdoor InvestiGATOR: Youth ages 8-14 learn the importance of insects, animals, and the variety of living things around them. Hands-on activities are explained each week and youth are tasked with a scientific observation, experiment, or process to complete each week.
- 4-H Public Speaking: Students in grades 4-6 learn how to write and deliver a speech, providing them the skills to communicate with clarity and comfort, and to think quickly. The program allows students to work on a speech of their choice, guided by a teacher. The top three speeches from each school participate in a countywide contest.
- 4-H Radish: Third grade classrooms are provided with seed packets and printed booklets. Youth grow radishes and return them to be judged along with a project book tracking results.
For more information, visit the Sarasota County 4-H website.
Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability offers three different backpack kits. All kits are available for free checkout from any Sarasota County Public Library. The kits come in a backpack and are filled with books and activities for all ages. They can be used in the classroom, at home, or anywhere you go.
Program Adaptations Due to COVID-19
Almost all regular programs and offerings were transitioned to an online setting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving forward, programs can be offered in many different forms and platforms. Please contact us to inquire about any programs above and for information on if it is offered virtually.
- LIFE (Learning in Florida’s Environment) videos: 10-15 minute environmental education videos aligned to 3rd-5th grade science standards. Most include an at-home/school activity suggestion/demo and pre- and post-test assessments. Expert scientists also available to virtually visit the classroom. Learn more here.
- Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension webinar recordings and lessons can be found on our YouTube channel.
- Currently, some in-person programming is possible with small groups, social distancing, and additional restrictions to keep everyone safe. Those offerings are expected to increase soon as more people have the opportunity to be vaccinated.
Other Services Provided
UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County faculty and staff also provide service to our schools by assisting with STEM fair judging, career events, serving on advisory committees as topic experts, and providing presentations, assistance, and guidance in our topic areas upon request.
- Visit our Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension webpage to learn more about us, our staff, and programs.
- Email Sarasota@ifas.ufl.edu to learn more or for speaker and program inquiries.
*The Do-It-Yourself Energy and Water Audit Kit is not intended for youth programs. It is intended for those residents that have already gone beyond the first level of energy saving actions at home and are ready for the next step.
**Featured image credit: UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones. Images were taken prior to national guidelines of face coverings and social distancing.