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4-H clover 4-H ignites a passion for science and technology in Minnesota youth

November 20, 2020

Imagine. Your whole body vibrates as your spacecraft prepares for ascent; indicator knobs light up like fireworks in the sky. With hands-on activities in tow; space command counts down for your departure...three, two, one BLAST OFF.

4-H STEM programming, from engineering to drone racing to polymer science, offers youth of all ages the chance to explore and discover a universe of exciting opportunities. 

“Our goal for 4-H STEM experiences is for youth to find their spark,” said Michael Compton, Extension educator and director of 4-H STEM programs. “And we want to help them become better communicators, problem solvers, decision makers, and collaborators too.”

14,487 Minnesota youth took part in 4-H technology and engineering experiences last year.

Constructing a new world

stem rover car

Red dust makes clouds in the atmosphere as we land at our first stop on this 4-H STEM adventure. Craters and canyons engrave the rock. We are just about ready to explore, but first we need our spacesuits!

40 youth from 10 Minnesota counties are engaged in five, 30 minute sessions during the week of Nov. 16 through Nov. 24 in the exploration called Mission to Mars. This hybrid learning series combines live online sessions with hands-on learning activities that ensure young participants can dig deep into the wonders of building a life on Mars.

Each participant received an at-home learning kit to support their experience. The kits included all the supplies necessary for hands-on activities that explore how mechanical engineering, physics, computer science and agriculture play critical roles in creating inhabitable societies.

At live online meetings, youth interact with one another, share what they learned from the at-home activities and work together to complete a weekly mission. The Nov. 17 session, called Red Planet Odyssey Adventure, challenged youth to use a set list of materials to build their very own rovers that could explore the surface of Mars (or their living room). 

The combination of collaborative and independent learning creates space for youth to explore what gets them excited and share their learning with others who have similar passions. “I learned that Mariner 9 mapped 85% of the Mars surface and sent back over 7,000 images to Earth!” said Sydney Ogren of Anoka County. Her excitement and surprise was shared by Aliee Ravinski from St. Louis County, who was shocked to learn that Mars’ temperature is inhabitable to humans. “I didn’t know Mars has permafrost!” she said with clear enthusiasm.

Engineering a better drone

kid working on a drone
Tate Klanderud, Chisago County

After the exciting visit to our Mission to Mars, we descend back to Earth and land in Chisago County where 4-H’ers are exploring robotics, coding and aerospace engineering in the 4-H Drones Club. This new STEM program is for youth in grades 6-13 who are curious about hands-on career options in tech.

When in session, club members learn how to build drones from scratch, practice drone flying using computer simulation and design drone race courses for real world experience. “I learned how to fly and solder a drone,” said Marshall Tveit, a 13 year old from Isanti County. “And I’m better able to explain new things when showing them to people.” 

Extension Educators Jeremy Freeman (Chisago) and Jennifer Johnson (Isanti) brought drone programming to 4-H beginning of 2019 in partnership with Youth Drone Sports. “Not only do youth explore the mechanics of drone design, they also get to meet people from different backgrounds and walks of life,” said Freeman. “Our club members have been invited to drone flying competitions across the Twin Cities since the program began and have met some great people.” 

The 4-H Drone Club is scheduled to expand to Benton and Isanti Counties with the goal of tripling total capacity. 

Discovering new possibilities

kid with blue slime
Ty Greeley, Washington County

After all that flying, we’re settling back into life on Earth’s surface. Our legs feel like jelly but we’re on the path to learn even more about how STEM makes a difference for our communities and world. 

The 4-H Green Superheroes of Science League is a learning series that engages kindergarten through third grade youth in experiments connected to polymer science. There are 59 youth from 23 Minnesota counties who are participating this fall. 

“The goal of the program is to excite our youngest 4-H members in science and engineering,” says Anne Stevenson, Extension educator, and member of the 4-H STEM team. “We want all young people to develop science skills such as making observations using their senses, and planning and conducting investigations.”

The 4-H Green Superheroes meet weekly online to “show and tell” what they explored, tested and discovered during video-guided at-home experiments. Hannah Grant, a 7 year old from Goodhue County talked about her discoveries during the program's first experiment: How to make the best slime. She tried two different slime recipes; one provided by a 4-H teen teacher and the other of her own creation, and then compared their properties. "Each was different,” she said “Sometimes things can be good in different ways." 

4-H offers a variety of STEM learning experiences for youth of all ages. Find your next 4-H STEM adventure on our website

Related topics: YD News 4-H Youth Featured news
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