Launching Rockets and Igniting Interest in STEAM
Mentors can make a permanent impact on a young person’s life. Mentors can encourage children to challenge themselves, cultivate new interests, and solve problems in positive ways. The 4-H Tech Wizards program brings young people under the wing of caring adults while tackling fun, STEAM-related projects, giving kids someone they can talk to and work with as they develop critical thinking and creativity skills.
The 4-H Tech Wizards program started in Oregon with the goal of giving extra support to children struggling in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) classes. The program is now active in 25 states, including Michigan. Now in its sixth year, Michigan’s 4-H Tech Wizards program, conducted through the Michigan State University Extension office and 4-H Youth Development, is available in 11 counties across 26 sites. These sites are usually elementary schools and community centers, where students and mentors can collaborate on a number of different projects in STEAM fields.
“It’s an innovative program, it’s a blend of mentorship and tech exploration,” said Scott Lakin, Extension Educator with the Michigan 4-H Tech Wizards program and one of the program’s key organizers. “How do we teach young people to live and work in a way that involves creative thinking and critical thinking? When you put these things together, some really cool stuff starts to happen.”
Michigan 4-H Tech Wizards students encompass grades 4 through 12, and mentors may be older teens or adults. Students in underrepresented parts of the community, struggling in STEAM classes, or facing other social challenges may find valuable support with the program. Though technical experience is a plus, mentors don’t have to be tech experts. “We’re looking for someone who wants to have a positive impact in a young person’s life,” said Lakin. “They don’t need a large amount of tech expertise. The young people might know more than the mentor, and that’s okay.”
Mentors and students work on hundreds of different types of projects. Mentees at Oehrli Elementary built small rockets out of film canisters. At the Farwell Recreation Center in Detroit, students and mentors built and drove small solar-powered cars. In Mt. Clemens, groups learned about the effects of lift and drag while flying kites. 4-H Tech Wizards in Owen learned about bats and wildlife conservation. In Montague, groups experimented with basic engineering and practiced their creativity by building their own K’NEX projects.
4-H Tech Wizards brings math, science, computers, and engineering out of the textbook and into the real world. While young people are building model cars and K’NEX towers they are also building confidence, connecting with mentors, and learning useful skills. Data shows the 4-H Tech Wizards program can encourage positive change in a young person’s life, with 91% of youth participants exhibiting favorable behavioral changes and 95% of students graduating, compared to the 78% national average. That is why the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention awarded a grant (2015-JU-FX-0015) to 4-H Tech Wizards so the program can continue to seek new mentors, set up new sites, and make 4-H Tech Wizards an ongoing success.