Unique program combines talents of several Extension agents
LAWRENCE – More than 140 Kansas youth are boosting their science and technology skills this summer during an online program created in response to the need for social distancing.
Normally, Kaitlyn Peine, the 4-H youth development agent for K-State Research and Extension’s office in Douglas County, would be teaching STEM lessons face-to-face with a handful of kids. But with the global pandemic forcing new learning environments, she was able to rally several extension agents in northeast Kansas to combine their efforts this summer.
“We likely would not have been able to collaborate in this capacity face-to-face because geographically we are spread out so much,” Peine said. “But the great thing is our youth are getting the chance to be able to be taught by some of the best agents in Kansas and they are learning science along the way.”
Peine said the program involves agents from the Central Kansas District (Salina) as well as Dickinson, Douglas, Geary, Johnson, Leavenworth, Pottawatomie and Riley counties.
The agents have mapped out a hands-on, six-week course in which students log on each week for an hour. Each youth received a packet of materials by mail.
“We do a lot of 4-H science programming in Douglas County, and I thought ‘what better way to engage these young people with science programming than to get materials in their hands that they likely don’t already have at home?’” Peine said. “We then built lesson plans for the kids to do with us.”
Elementary-aged youth are focusing on environmental science and technology, Peine said. Already, they have completed lessons on water quality, electricity and circuitry, and have each built a robot out of a plastic cup. Peine said 100 elementary youth are participating this summer.
The middle school and high school youth are focusing on computer science, especially computer coding. “That’s a huge topic and initiative in 4-H right now,” Peine said, adding that 41 youth are involved in that part of the program.
She added that each of the extension agents is in charge of different lessons, though “most of us hop onto the lessons each week” to interact with the youth and help them through each science challenge.
The program is partially funded by the Google 4-H Computer Science grant, which is administered through K-State Research and Extension’s office in Johnson County. Peine said the grant helps to keep the students’ costs down to $10; the cost of the packet materials alone is close to $30, she said.
“The students are doing a great job staying engaged,” Peine said. “In the science challenges, their end product doesn’t always look the same and that’s OK; that’s the great thing about science. We all test and apply what we learn in different ways.”
The online classes are scheduled to run through July 8.
“This is definitely new water for us to be in this situation,” Peine said. “We are very much a people-to-people organization, and so to be facilitating programs this way, we are learning right along with the kids.
“The great thing I keep telling the team is that if we are in a situation when we need to be virtual again through the fall or winter, we have a framework set up to work from. We can definitely take what we’ve learned and apply that and make it even better.”