- (Condition Change) Increased civic engagement
Multi-state youth education pilot results in 85% of 4-H participants improving their understanding of recycling and intention to help others recycle more, increasing civic engagement and contributing to UC ANR's public value of developing a qualified workforce.
The generation of plastics has grown to over 381 million metric tons annually, nearly a 200-fold increase since 1950. Most of the plastic waste is disposed of in landfills (75%). Only 8% of plastic waste is recycled, and much plastic waste ends up in the world's oceans. Detrimental environmental effects from the production and disposal of plastics has been well-documented. While there have been large-scale campaigns to engage youth in recycling, different strategies are needed to help young people explore viable alternative options to mitigate the “plastic crisis.”
How UC Delivers
Through a multi-state collaboration with the NSF Center for Sustainable Polymers and Minnesota, California, and New York 4-H, Cooperative Extension educators worked to develop and pilot youth-focused curricula to introduce youth to the prevalence and impacts of plastics in everyday life. Experiential activities were designed to help youth learn that plastics are versatile materials that come with advantages and disadvantages. For example, plastic beverage containers are lightweight and durable, reducing energy needed for transportation. However, extraction and manufacturing contributes to climate change, and many plastics are produced for single-use and do not easily decompose. The curricula also introduce youth to the new ways scientists and engineers are working to develop bio-plastics in order to lessen effects on our environment.
The curricula were designed to build foundational skills of science and engineering: observation, asking questions and defining problems, planning and carrying out investigations, and communicating. The curricula are intended for delivery during out-of-school time and facilitated by educators such as trained volunteers or program staff. Three curricula are available for download and print copies are available from Shop 4-H (Note: only K-2 is available now, grades 3-5 and 6-8 are coming soon). The curricula were piloted with more than 300 youth.
Findings from pilot outcome data included 4-H youth self-reporting that they learned some materials can be recycled and some cannot (89% of 161 youth) and that many things are made of plastic (86% of 155 youth). Youth also came up with ideas for how to care for the environment (87% of 158 youth) and expressed their intent to help family or friends recycle more (91% of 156 youth). While recycling plastic has some ecological benefits, not all plastics are recyclable, and recycling is not likely to be the only solution needed. Youth learned that the other 5 R's are important in finding sustainable solutions, including refusing plastics altogether, reducing use, reusing plastic items, repurposing plastic products, or purchasing plastics made with renewable materials that rot (compost). Place-Based Education research shows that integrating science learning with materials and experiences youth are familiar with helps lead to more meaningful and engaged learning , and thus, youth are more likely to be motivated to help improve their communities. In this way, this project and 4-H's work in the mission areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) contributes to condition changes of improved civic engagement, increased college readiness, and increased ecological sustainability.
- Author: Marianne Bird
75% of 4-H teens who taught the Youth Experiences in Science Project to younger youth reported more confidence in public speaking and all felt they had made an important contribution to their community through the project.
In 2015, only 38% of 4th grade students in the U.S. scored at or above proficient in science. The gap in science literacy is especially prominent for youth of color. The need to improve scientific knowledge and critical thinking is pressing as these young people are the decision-makers and problem-solvers of tomorrow.
California communities also need active, involved citizens of all ages. Through service-learning projects, youth see themselves as leaders, learn to appreciate the value of contributing to their communities, and strengthen their skills for the workforce. The future of our workforce, and our communities, depends on a science literate and engaged citizenry.
How UC Delivers
During the 2018-19 school year, 17 teenagers delivered the 4-H Youth Experiences in Science Project (YES Project) to 334 five to eight year-olds attending afterschool or summer programs in Sacramento. The 4-H YES Project, created by UC ANR through a National Science Foundation grant, is a teen-led curriculum designed to engage younger youth in inquiry and discovery. It is both a science education program for children and a service-learning opportunity for teenagers.
After attending 10 hours of training and equipped with science kits and enthusiasm, teen volunteers led weekly science sessions to encourage children to ask questions and seek answers through observation and experimentation. Utilizing bubbles, snails, worms, and recyclables, teenagers averaged two hours a week working in teams with peers and an adult coach to organize and deliver their lessons. They committed to one semester (though many volunteered for a year or more) and taught at nine sites, all in schools where at least 50% of students qualified for free or reduced lunches. Sixty-five percent of youth who participated were African American or Hispanic.
The program encourages problem-solving and an interest in science. For teens, it provides new experiences, a chance to make a real difference in their communities, and opportunities to explore potential career choices.
Feedback from teens and their coaches indicate that young program participants look forward to the YES Project. “The kids get so excited when they see us,” said one teen when asked about her favorite part of the program, “and that's so sweet!” In addition, as a result of their YES experience, 75% of teens reported feeling more confident in public speaking and 66% said they had improved their planning skills. All reported feeling as though they had made an important contribution to their community.
Research shows that such civic engagement for teenagers is positively associated with gains in education attainment and income. It also suggests that “among youth, volunteering plays a valuable role in shaping how youth learn to interact with their community and develop the skills, values and sense of empowerment necessary to become active citizens.” In this way, UC ANR increases effective public leaders and civic engagement, contributing to the public value of developing a qualified workforce for California.