4-H Science Day helps youth become engineers for a day

Young people gain insight into robotics and gain interest in science by participating in the National 4-H Science Experiment.

America faces a future of intense global competition with a startling shortage of scientists. According to the National 4-H website only 18 percent of high school seniors are proficient in science (NAEP 2005) and a mere 5 percent of current U.S. college graduates earn science, engineering or technology degrees. To address the increased demand of science and technology professionals, 4-H is working on its goal of engaging 1 million new young people in science programs by 2013.

The National 4-H Science Day is a major event to rally for 4-H and year round 4-H science programming. It brings together stakeholders, educators, volunteers and youth to participate in the National 4-H Science Experiment.

This year’s National 4-H Science Experiment – the Eco Bot Challenge – was created in partnership with Ohio State University and Ohio State University Extension and it explores how robots can be used to protect and preserve the environment.

In Hillsdale County, 37 youth participated in the Eco Bot Challenge. Students became engineers for the afternoon. In teams of two, they assembled their own Eco-Bots using a toothbrush head, a 10 mm Pager Vibrating Motor with wires attached, foam mounting tape and a LR441.5 volt button cell watch battery and discovered how the robot functions. Using the engineering design process, they designed a set of control surfaces to program the Eco Bot to perform a simulated environmental clean-up. At the end of the program each team was challenged to measure the effectiveness of their control surfaces by recording how much of the spill was “swept-up” by the Eco Bot.

Students learned the Eco-Bot was only going in one direction. And while the Eco-Bot itself could not be changed, by altering the design of the control surfaces, the direction the Eco Bot was going could be manipulated. Experimenting with the design of the control surfaces, students learned that engineers may repeat the steps of the engineering design process over and over again to refine and improve their design until it is just right.

At the end of the program, 97 percent of youth surveyed stated they learned something new; 97 percent thought the experiment was fun, interesting and it makes them want to learn more; and 100 percent agreed with the statement, “Because of today, I want to get more involved in a 4-H science project or club.”

The National 4-H Science Experiment can easily be conducted with any 4-H group, faith-based group, school or after-school group, or any other group of young people. Kits for the experiment are still available through the National 4-H Mall.

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