Michigan 4-Hers explored the 'E' in STEM at Exploration Days: Part 1

Youth explored the engineering design process at Michigan State University during the 2016 4-H Exploration Days.

More than 2,500 youth, ages 11 to 19, from across Michigan came together to meet new people, share new experiences and explore the Michigan State University campus at the 2016 4-H Exploration Days. Youth and their chaperones stayed in dorms, ate in the cafeteria, caught a bus or hiked across campus for classes. Each child had the opportunity to select two sessions from a catalog of choices. Sessions included 2.5 hours in the afternoon, followed by an additional 2.5 hours in the morning for a total of five hours of session activities. Youth also had the opportunity to get ice cream from the Dairy Store, swim at the campus pool, visit the planetarium, explore the gardens and join author and inspirational speaker Brandon Lee White at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts.

Youth that participated in the "Exploring Science with MSU" session engaged in a series of three engineering activities which incorporated an engineering design process. Participants talked about developing solutions and how important it is to have a plan or a design process. The facilitator shared one circular process which included six parts: ask, imagine, plan, create, improve and communicate.

Youth and their families discussed each part of this engineering design process:

  • Ask. Define the challenge, its limits, what we know and what we need to know.
  • Imagine. Brainstorm possible solutions.
  • Plan. Consider the solutions from the brainstorming phase and determine which best meets the “ask.”
  • Create. Build your solution based on the “plan” and test it.
  • Improve. Think about the test results, discuss changes and then make improvements.
  • Communication. Throughout all areas of the process, communication is vital (communication within the team, with the boss and with the customer).

''During the one activity, youth had the opportunity to engage in a challenge to complete a maze made from PVC pipe. Youth were provided with 27 pieces of PVC and 23 PVC joints of varying types. Participants were asked to build a three-dimensional maze that used all of the PVC pieces and joints and had no openings. The purpose of this activity was two-fold: the first was to give youth an opportunity to get to know one another and begin to form a cohesive team. The second purpose was to give youth an opportunity to begin using the various types of PVC joints. Youth worked in teams of four or five to complete their three-dimensional mazes. All groups tried multiple designs before successfully meeting the challenge.

While engaged in another activity, youth were given 50 chenille stems and challenged to build the tallest free-standing structure in the allotted time. Participants engaged in these activities used the engineering design process informally as they asked each other questions, imagined possible solutions, made numerous plans, built and modified multiple times. The youth also developed and grew as a team as they worked together and practiced their communication, critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to create a workforce excited about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem solving, critical thinking and decision making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success. To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read our 2015 impact report, ”Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals”.  

For more ways to share science with youth in your life, please explore the MSU Extension science and engineering website. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local county MSU Extension office. To learn more about 4-H and Extension opportunities in Alcona County, stop by our Harrisville office at 320 S. US 23 or visit us online at Facebook Alcona County MSU Extension or at our county website.

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