Chances are, many people in America know of 4-H, a 100-year-old youth development program designed to help youth build important life skills and apply them to improving their local communities, as a rural program. That’s because throughout its history, it has focused largely on giving youth a chance to develop leadership, life, and technical skills in the field of agriculture. At the turn of the 20th century, one of our nation’s biggest challenges was figuring out how to feed a growing population on a finite amount of land. 4-H was established to get young people to innovate in the ag space, adopt, or invent new technology, and lead the agriculture sector into the future. This same spirit is what drives 4-H today—only its scope has grown to include topics like STEM, healthy living, and civic engagement.
Similar to UnidosUS’s own STEM program, CASA Code, which introduces Latino middle-school children to computer science and coding, 4-H receives grants from tech companies like Google and Lockheed Martin to teach technological skills to bring economic opportunity to diverse and underserved youth. For example, on October 4, 4-H hosted a computer science education event as part of its 4-H National Youth Science Day (4-H NYSD) program called Game Changers at Escuela Popular, a predominately Latino, bilingual school in San Jose, California. UnidosUS spoke to Fe Moncloa, 4-H Youth Development Advisor at the University of California Cooperative Extension in Santa Clara County, to learn more.
Q: Tell us more about what Game Changers does and what might make it unique to other youth STEM challenges or competitions out there.
A: 4-H National Youth Science Day (4-H NYSD) is an annual initiative to inspire kids everywhere to take an interest in STEM through hands-on learning. This year’s challenge, Game Changers, teaches kids how to use computer science to create games, solve problems, and engage with topics they care passionately about. What makes 4-H NYSD unique is that more than 250,000 kids and teenagers across all 50 states participate in the challenge, organize events in their communities, and help raise awareness for STEM and computer science education during the month of October. Programs like 4-H NYSD are delivered through Cooperative Extension, a community of more than 100 public universities like mine, the University of California. This means that we reach every state, county, and parish in the United States with a university-backed curriculum that meets educational standards.
Q: You have an activity called Hack Your Harvest, which combines computer science and agriculture. Why is that an important link in a place like San Jose?
A: Agriculture is a big industry in California and many of our students have relatives and families working in agriculture. It’s important that our 4-H NYSD challenge is relevant to all youth who participate in 4-H so that they can see how science, technology, engineering, and math are applicable to their future educational and career interests. We also want the activities to be fun and engaging, so Hack Your Harvestand the other Game Changersactivities teach computer science concepts that are easy to teach—one does not have to be an expert in computer science to facilitate Game Changers—and provide hands-on learning for kids. For example, Hack Your Harvestallows students to design their own board game, which we then had them swap with their classmates to solve. This ended up being one of the most well-liked parts of the activity as the kids could be really creative and take turns teaching each other.
Q: So, this challenge includes one computer-based and two unplugged activities to help kids learn computer science, or CS. What’s the unplugged part and why is that important for bridging gaps in access to technology?
A: The two unplugged activities are Hack Your Harvestand Program Your Playground,and they are designed around two of the 4-H pillars, Agriculture and Healthy Living, respectively. Hack Your Harvest, as mentioned before, is a tabletop game that teaches kids about algorithms and optimum efficiency by having them “program” their tractors across a grid to get to the barn. Program Your Playgroundis a physical activity that teaches kids about decomposition and conditionals by first playing variations of the game, Tag, and then allowing them to create their own playground games.
These unplugged activities are important because they offer students an opportunity to understand computational thinking concepts as they are applied in various settings. This is a good first step, before learning how to use block coding—the plugged activity. Also, not every educator or location where we host 4-H NYSD will have access to computers or internet when facilitating Game Changers. Other 4-H groups might be meeting in more rural areas that do not have the best internet access. Or families that want to use Game Changersmay not be able to afford a computer. The unplugged activities teach computational thinking concepts without technology to help bridge those gaps and provide opportunity to adapt the activities to all the different places where 4-H NYSD happens.
Q: UnidosUS is also very involved in the topic of civic engagement. For example, we have a campaign called the Power of 18 aimed at registering Latino youth to vote, and we have a six-lesson curriculum called the High School Democracy Project, which educates teens about the entire voting process. Can you tell us more about the civic engagement aspect of the Game Changerschallenge?
A: The online activity in Game Changersis called Pitch Your Passionand was developed in collaboration with Google’s CS First team. The activity allows kids to create an animation advocating for a cause or issue they care about using Scratch, MIT’s programming language. Our celebration of 4-H NYSD has just gotten underway and we have already seen some great projects from kids doing Pitch Your Passion like raising awareness for mental health and cleaning up plastic in the ocean. 4-H has a long history of empowering youth as decisionmakers as well as encouraging them to become leaders in their clubs and communities. We think it is important to equip young people with the confidence and skills—teaching them how to use their voice and influence—to become leaders of tomorrow.
Q: Given all our commonalities and the kind of work we’re all doing in Latino communities, what are some of the ways 4-H and UnidosUS can align their efforts?
A: I think there are so many opportunities in 4-H that many Latino youth can benefit from – programs like 4-H NYSD and 4-H Juntos. There are also many ways 4-H and UnidosUS can align efforts. For example, UnidosUS can help 4-H engage with the communities we’re trying to reach. And since both of our organizations focus on economic mobility, together can help create the next generation of leaders in the Latino community.
4-H NYSD is an annual initiative to inspire kids everywhere to take an interest in STEM through hands-on learning. 4-H NYSD 2019 was developed in collaboration by Google and the West Virginia University Extension service, with support from national partners—Bayer, Donaldson, HughesNet, Lockheed Martin, and the United States Air Force. To learn more about the program, visit 4-H.org/NYSD.