4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp: A national top science program

Nationally recognized for science literacy excellence, 4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp serves as a program model for others.

A look at a dark blue lake with a bright blue sky.
Photo by Annie Vo on Unsplash

4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp was identified in 2011 to be part of an in-depth case study featuring the top eight 4-H science programs nationally. The outcomes report, a product of the study, “Priming the Pipeline: Lessons from Promising 4-H Science Programs,” included this popular pre-college program. It was written by Derek Riley and Alisha Butler from Policy Studies Associates and features promising practices that can be replicated or adapted for use by other youth science programs – both within and outside of 4-H. The case study was part of the 4-H Youth Development Program’s National Science Initiative evaluation funded by the Noyce Foundation through a grant to National 4-H Council.

To have 4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp recognized as one of the top 4-H science programs in the nation and have it serve as a model for other youth science programs creates awareness that Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development is helping lead the way in increasing science literacy among Michigan young people and the number of youth pursuing postsecondary education and careers in science.

Eight categories of promising program practices are identified and detailed in the 71-page report. In brief, they are:

  • Youth outreach and recruitment. Promotional efforts should appeal to youth and their parents. Efforts should include “word of mouth” and networks of partner organizations. Also, key are design strategies to build the desired participant group and recruit underrepresented youth.
  • Staff and science volunteers. Recruit science content experts from a wide variety of places such as universities, labs, schools, businesses and organizations that have individuals whose knowledge ranges across many fields of science, engineering and technology. Look for science experts who work well with youth but also provide them with youth development expertise and support as needed in developing age-appropriate instructional sessions.
  • Professional development. Provide guidance to science experts on youth development, lesson planning and delivery. Likewise, for staff who may not be science experts, provide training on the particulars of the program content and guidance on how to facilitate science activities. Develop training materials and delivery that minimize the burden on all staff and volunteers and maximize the uptake of essential content.
  • Science curricula and pedagogy. Develop student skills and knowledge through experiential learning and real-world applications of science. Incorporate inquiry in activities and let youth take control of their own learning. Manage a realistic yet productive balance between adaptation, teachable moments that spontaneously occur, and fidelity of an adopted curriculum.
  • Youth development and attitudes toward science. Structure science activities to promote the development of life skills and expose youth to diverse science fields and careers. Encourage or involve youth in their communities through science projects and build opportunities for them to serve in leadership roles.
  • Partner organizations and resource support. Approach partnership development mindfully and persistently. Draw human resources and science expertise from organizational partnerships, allowing them low-cost ways to partner and make substantive contributions.
  • Program evaluation. Design evaluations to provide data that are useful for visibility, securing additional funds, partners and for guiding continuous program improvement.
  • Program sustainability and scale-up. Plan for sustainability and replication through program and evaluation design. Improve sustainability and replication by codifying and institutionalizing key program features, such as procedures, content, training and partner relationships.

4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp is an annual MSU pre-college program held in late July or early August on the northern shores of Lake Huron in Presque Isle, Michigan. The program teaches teens environmental science through hands-on learning taught by natural resources professionals. A variety of programming partners enrich this experience for all campers. Check out the camp brochure for more information.

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