CONTRIBUTED BY ACES
BY MARY LEIGH OLIVER
Alabama 4-H Foundation Regional Extension Agent Janet Lovelady knows just how much technology touches every aspect of people’s lives. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, technology now has had an even bigger impact. Alabama youth, like many others, spent an inordinate amount of time in front of their computer screens during the 2020-2021 school year. Unfortunately, despite the increased time on computers, most students were not acquiring computer science skills during remote learning.
Computer science education is a crucial 21st-century skill that many school systems are struggling to provide for their students. According to Lovelady, computer science education develops problem-solving and computational thinking skills.
“Computer science ignites creative thinking while providing an understanding of the technology that touches every part of our lives,” Lovelady said.
To give students a break from their computers and bridge this educational gap, Alabama 4-H was able to implement an unplugged computer science programming opportunity. This was made possible through grant funding provided by National 4-H.
Using Computer Science (CS) Pathway funding, Alabama 4-H put together CS-in-a-Box program kits. These kits connect youth to computer science and STEM through unplugged outdoor activities. The kit includes OzoBots, which offers a computer science experience both with and without a computer.
“CS-in-a-Box was used along with previously obtained Chromebook kits, the 2021 4-H STEM Challenge kits and 4-H CS curriculum placed in each of the seven Alabama 4-H regions,” Lovelady said.
The program proved to be a success throughout the previous school year. In Alabama, 396 youth in grades six through 12 used the CS school enrichment. Two hundred youth in underserved communities had CS after school programs, while 269 youth had one to two hours of CS experience from summer day camps. 4-H educators hope this is just the beginning of the impact the 4-H Computer Science Pathway will have on youth in Alabama.
“A highlight of the program was meeting people who were equally enthusiastic about spreading knowledge about STEM,” said Computer Science Pathway student Hattin Berryman. “We could then learn together and be able to better teach STEM-related subjects.”
Youth were able to learn more about computer science, STEM and team-building using the CS-in-a-Box programs.
“I hope that the CS Pathway programming ignites a spark in some of our youth to explore coding as a hobby or to pursue a computer science-related field as a profession,” Lovelady said.
Informal learning is one of the many educational instruments that contributes to the improvement of STEM literacy and stimulates youth to explore STEM fields.
For more information about Alabama 4-H and the Computer Science Pathway program, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.