December 1997 // Volume 35 // Number 6 // Tools of the Trade // 6TOT1
School Enrichment: What Factors Attract Elementary Teachers to 4-H Science Curriculum?
Today's teachers are busy people. They teach class, grade papers, attend assemblies, work lunch, hall and bus duty, and complete many other job assignments. Extension professionals have an opportunity to build partnerships with classroom teachers through the 4-H Science curriculum and programs. Most lessons from the curriculum require fairly common materials and not much preparation time, making it ideal for teachers with limited resources.
Extension professionals have conducted 4-H school programs since the early 1970s. However, we have come a long way from the 4-H school nutrition programming of "Mulligan Stew," which was taught through the formats of television, films and comic books. What "Mulligan Stew" was for the classroom teacher in the 70s, discovery learning curriculum has become in the 90s. 4-H science projects such as Acorns to Oaks, Blue Sky Below My Feet (Cutler, Manholt & Horton, 1989), Fishy Science, Incredible Egg, and Rockets Away! have helped bridge the gap between the traditional structured classroom setting and the experiential, discovery- learning environment. These 4-H curricula offerings help meet the demand of societal expectations placed on elementary school teachers.
Yesterday's 4-H school curriculum was designed by Extension professionals, or from an Extension perspective, to meet the needs of the organization. It encompassed the values of Extension and provided an easier way to enroll a multitude of youth in the 4-H program. Hence, the addition of the television enrollment classification to the 4-H 237 statistical report, which is still in use today.
Today's teachers are bombarded with a vast array of "educational" programs. Curriculum developed by private educational enterprises, government agencies, and community service organizations cross a teacher's desk regularly. Frequently there is substantial cost to the teacher in resources or time to include these offerings or opportunities in their day- to-day classroom operations. Contemporary 4-H science curriculum meets the needs of teachers by providing lessons that employ low cost and readily accessible materials and equipment.
First, teachers find this curriculum user-friendly. The subject matter is presented in easy to understand language, making it simple to explain science concepts to students. It provides the teacher with ready-to-use lesson plans. Teachers have easily adopted these materials because they are accurate and age appropriate. The lessons also include demonstrations and activities that teach the required concepts for that grade level and engage the children in experiential learning.
Secondly, expectations about what teachers are to accomplish in the classroom have increased over the years. These include: outcome based objectives, mandated educational requirements, proficiency levels, competency scores on standardized tests, and increased literacy skills. The 4-H science curriculum in Ohio integrates significant learning outcomes that correspond with the Ohio Department of Education requirements (State Board of Education, 1994).
Finally, teachers are attracted to this curriculum because of their desire to utilize contemporary teaching methodology. Research clearly indicates that involving the learner increases learning and retention or as the old adage says, you remember 20% of what you see, 50% of what you see and hear, and 80% of what you see, hear and do. 4-H science curriculum supports contemporary teaching methods by incorporating discovery learning methods, experiential hands-on activities, group interaction situations, and inductive questioning approaches into program lessons.
Extension professionals need to take the advantage of teachers' attraction to this curriculum. They have the opportunity to recruit and train teachers or other community partners to be 4-H volunteers in a classroom setting (Castro & Horton, 1995). They have the opportunity to involve a large number of youth in 4-H school enrichment programs without conducting the program themselves. And, finally, Extension professionals have been presented with the chance to develop partnerships with our counterparts in youth development.
Castro, M. T. and Horton, R. (1995). "4-H science enrichment programs: A catalyst for school and community partnerships". Cognosis: The national center for science teaching and learning, 4 (3). Columbus, OH: The National Center for Science Teaching and Learning.
Cutler, L., Manholt, D. and Horton, R. (1989). Blue sky below my feet. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Extension.
State Board of Education. (1994). Science: Ohio's model competency-based program. Columbus, OH.