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4-H Wildlife Stewards

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  Afterschool Expert   Science Expert  

Review Synopsis: by afterschool program expert Janna Taylor

The Oregon State University Extension 4-H After School Program emphasizes student interaction with the environment and encourages appreciation for nature. The activities in the program include exploring animal habitats, aquifers, soil types, tree species, photosynthesis, camouflage, and nature cycles. The program lessons can be implemented as modules or as a full program, making it appropriate for short-term or long-term use. This program is ideal for schools that have extensive schoolyards or are located near forests or parks, since most of the lessons involve physical exploration and interaction with animals and plants that can be found outside. Additionally, the program is best implemented during fair-weather months because many of the activities cannot be adapted for the indoors. The program can be implemented with groups of any size, but because several lessons require disposable supplies, the larger the class, the higher the cost. Generally, the activities do not require extensive adult supervision and I suggest that instructors try to maintain a one-to-eight teacher-to-student ratio, if possible. Preparation time will decrease and learning will be enhanced and if teachers have scientific knowledge about related topics, such as photosynthesis and local plant and animal species, but this knowledge is not necessary to use the materials since the guide provides substantial background information for each lesson to prepare both volunteer and trained staff. The "Extension and Adaptations" sections of the activities help instructors by providing elements for each lesson that address various learning styles. There is also a training component that instructors can attend online.
Full Review:
The OSU Extension 4-H After School Program helps students in afterschool programs develop a scientific perspective through direct interaction with nature. This program's focus on nature stands in direct contrast to many other science programs that focus on academic performance and items that might appear on state mandated tests. Due to this program's emphasis, an afterschool site's location could be an issue: you need access to the natural outdoors. Furthermore, the best months for implementation are the spring and summer months. I estimate that an instructor will need 2-3 hours, including time to obtain materials for an activity, at least for the first time these activities are used. Subsequent uses of these materials will require substantially less preparation time because materials will have already been purchased and teachers will already be familiar with the lesson format.

This program is suitable for the afterschool environment since the lessons do not span several days or sessions. Rather, each day has a new activity, so if students miss a day (as is often the case with afterschool programming), they will not fall behind. A child that enters the program midway could benefit as much as a child who participates in all the lessons. The cost for each day varies depending on materials that the afterschool location has on hand and the number of children participating.

The topics include exploring habitats, aquifers, soil types, tree species, photosynthesis, camouflage, and nature cycles; they involve science concepts such as transpiration, ecosystems, soil filter percolation, and nutrients versus food energy.

This program emphasizes physical interaction with the environment and promotes respect for nature. In order to participate in the activities, students go outside, examine plants and animals, conduct experiments with dirt, play "insect bingo," and draw pictures. Most activities involve group work, either as an entire class or in small groups. But all the activities offer interaction with peers and include time spent outside.

This program explicitly strives to include various active modes of learning, perhaps in an effort to offer activities that appeal to a range of learning styles. For example, to learn about types of soil particles the students "act" out the roles of sand, silt, and clay. Another activity requires students to explore a tree blindfolded, taking notice of the tree's features through touch and smell. Other activities include writing descriptions or drawing pictures of observations.

Each chapter begins with a one-page introduction that includes supply and preparation lists, an activity summary and objectives, and the location and time needed for the activities. Most lessons begin with a "Background Knowledge" section, which lists additional resources for instructors.

A "Methods" section follows, which constitutes the bulk of the lesson plan. Generally, each "Methods" section includes an introduction to the topic, a discovery activity with learning question prompts, and review questions.

An "Extension and Adaptations" section of each chapter includes additional activities and lesson plan modifications. Generally, the ideas presented in this section allow students to delve deeper into the concepts. For example, one lesson suggests that the students draw a picture of the world seen from the perspective of an animal they have observed. An aquifer lesson extension suggests taking a trip to the community's well (assuming there is one). The suggestions in the Extensions and Adaptations section enhance the learning process for students.

The materials provided for the instructor are clear and concise. Seven of the eleven lessons in the program require more than five different supplies, which may require a significant amount of preparation time. Some of the items, such as masking tape, popcorn, string, crayons and plastic bags can be found at a grocery store. However, some materials may need to be purchased at specialty stores, such as funnels, sterilized potting soil, Petri dishes, squeeze bottles, plastic measuring syringes, and gravel.

This program is ideal for schools that have extensive schoolyards or are located near forests or parks, since most lessons take place outdoors and require observation of plants and animals. Some of the outdoor lessons could be adapted for indoor use. However, these modifications may require extensive preparation time. Even if a school has access to schoolyards, forests, and parks, instructors should check to be sure that these outdoor areas contain a variety of plants, insects, and small animals and should remember that weather conditions will impact when and what can be done.

These materials can all be used multiple times. The lesson plans and worksheets can be photocopied for instructors. Many of the supplies initially purchased for the activities can be reused, such as Petri dishes, blindfolds, plant containers, pictures of trees, scissors, and buckets. However, other materials, like soil and balloons, will need to be purchased for each session.