September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

The California 4-H Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) Initiative: Using and Informing Best Practices for Science Education in Non-formal Settings

Posted: Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Steven Worker, Martin Smith, Andrea Ambrose, and Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty

4-H is the nation’s largest non-formal youth education program. As part of the land-grant university system, 4-H reaches over six million youth annually through science, healthy living, and civic engagement programs. In 2008, 4-H introduced the 4-H Science Mission Mandate to strengthen non-formal science education targeting improved scientific literacy among U.S. youth. This national effort provides strategic direction to state 4-H programs for science programming grounded in a positive youth development framework and utilizing experiential education and inquiry-based learning.

In California, 4-H established the 4-H Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) Initiative to strengthen efforts around curriculum development, professional development, and research and evaluation.These anchor points are framed around the four essential components of scientific literacy: relevant science content, scientific reasoning abilities, interest and attitudes toward science, and authentic contributions through applied participation.

The principal goal of the California 4-H SET Initiative is to improve youth scientific literacy through effective programming while advancing the research base of non-formal youth science education. To accomplish this, 4-H academic and program staff have identified the need for systematic approaches to the development of programs, professional preparation, curriculum and applied research. Specifically, the California 4-H SET Initiative is focused on the use of strategies to develop, implement, and evaluate curriculum materials and professional development models for adult and teen volunteer educators.

Curriculum Development

The California 4-H approach to curriculum development emphasizes the design and evaluation of needs-based curricula. Curriculum content focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues germane to citizens of California and put forth as strategic initiatives for research and extension by the University of California’s Division of Natural Resources (UC ANR Strategic Vision 2025). Curriculum goals include understanding relevant science content, development of scientific reasoning skills, interest in science, and applied participation in communities.

4-H curricula are designed around the five-step experiential education model (Enfield, Schmitt-McQuitty, & Smith, 2007). Experiential education promotes deep understanding of concepts and application of new knowledge and skills to authentic settings. 4-H curriculum materials accomplish this by engaging youth in community-based service learning projects. Additionally, 4-H curricula promote positive youth development (PYD), an approach to youth programming that encourages long-term life outcomes in young people by fostering caring relationships with peers and adults, healthy behaviors, and leadership development (Campbell et al., 2013; Lerner et al., 2011).

One example of a 4-H curriculum development project that embodies this strategy is Bio-Security in 4-H Animal Science (Smith et al., 2011). Cooperative Extension staff, in collaboration with veterinarians and classroom teachers, developed and tested the curriculum. Subject matter content includes modes of disease transmission, risk assessment, and risk mitigation; activities also provide opportunities for youth to apply new knowledge and skills directly to raising their 4-H project animals. The curriculum evaluation focused on perceived changes in youths’ content knowledge. Outcomes revealed significant (p < .05) improvements in youths’ understanding of science concepts related to bio-security.



Professional Development

While the development and dissemination of high quality educational materials and curricula are of critical importance, a curriculum is only as good as the educators implementing it. Ensuring educators are prepared in effective science education pedagogy requires educator professional development opportunities that emphasize both science content understanding and pedagogical knowledge and skills. The 4-H Youth Development Program relies heavily on volunteers – adults and teens – who facilitate science activities with youth. While one-time, in-person workshops of short duration educational opportunities represent the most common approach used, these are generally considered to be ineffective because they do not model effective science pedagogy and do not produce significant change in educators’ practice (Guskey & Yoon, 2009). In contrast, California 4-H strives to implement professional development strategies of extended duration that promote active learning, emphasize pedagogical knowledge, are embedded in authentic contexts, and provide connections to broader organizational efforts (Smith, 2013; Smith & Schmitt-McQuitty, 2013).

The “Step-Up” Incremental Training Model (Smith & Enfield, 2002) is one example of a professional development model that utilizes many of the elements described above. Specifically, this model targets 4-H teen volunteers who implement science curriculum materials with younger youth. This strategy employs a sequence of three workshops that engage teen volunteers in modeling hands-on, inquiry-based science activities and practicing effective teaching techniques. The workshops alternate with the implementation of the science curriculum in non-formal education settings; allowing time for activity implementation between workshops provides opportunities for individual and group reflections on practice over a period of several weeks. Research objectives for the “Step-Up” model focused on changes in the teen volunteers’ understanding and use of effective questioning strategies and inquiry teaching methods. Analysis of pre-/post-survey and observational data provided statistically significant (p < .01) evidence that this model was effective in improving teens’ understanding and abilities to use effective questioning strategies and inquiry methods (Smith, Enfield, Meehan, & Klingborg, 2004). Furthermore, the teens were successful in the role of cross-age science teachers. Data on critical thinking skills revealed statistically significant (p < .05) improvements.


The California 4-H SET Initiative is focused on helping improve youth scientific literacy in non-formal settings while contributing to the field of research on non-formal science education. Through integrated efforts that involve research-based practices, California 4-H has built capacity within its organizational structure – county-based 4-H programs throughout the state – to offer effective science programming. These efforts support and complement school-based science education to help youth advance their understanding of and interest in science.

For more information about 4-H and to access 4-H SET curriculum materials, please visit


Campbell, D., Trzesniewski, K., Nathaniel, K., Enfield, R., & Erbstein, N. (2013). Positive youth development merits state investment. California Agriculture, 67(1), 38-46.

Enfield, R. P., Schmitt-McQuitty, L., & Smith, M. H. (2007). The development and evaluation of experiential learning workshops for 4-H volunteers. Journal of Extension [On-line], 45(1) Article 1FEA2.

Guskey, T. R., & Yoon, K. S. (2009). What works in professional development? Phi Delta Kappan, 90(7), 495-500.

Lerner, R.M., Lerner, J.V., Lewin-Bizan, S., Bowers, E.P., Boyd, M.J., Mueller, M.K., Schmid, K.L., & Napolitano, C.M. (2011). Positive youth development: Processes, programs, and problematics. Journal of Youth Development, 6(3), 40-64

Smith, M. H., & Enfield, R. P. (2002). Training 4-H teen facilitators in inquiry-based science methods: The evaluation of a “step-up” incremental training model. Journal of Extension [On-line], 40(6).

Smith et al., (2011). Bio-Security in 4-H Animal Science. University of California, Davis, CA: ANR Communication Services.

Smith, M. (2013). Findings show lesson study can be an effective model for professional development of 4-H volunteers. California Agriculture, 67(1), 54-61.

Smith, M.H. & Schmitt-McQuitty, L. (2013). More effective professional development can help 4-H volunteers address need for youth scientific literacy. California Agriculture, 67(1), 54-61.

Smith, M. H., & Enfield, R. P. (2002). Training 4-H teen facilitators in inquiry-based science methods: The evaluation of a “step-up” incremental training model. Journal of Extension [On-line], 40(6).

Smith, M. H., Enfield, R. P., Meehan, C. L., & Klingborg, D. J. (2004). Animal ambassadors…4-H teens learn to lead science program for kids. California Agriculture, 58(4): 209-212.

Steven Worker, Martin Smith, Andrea Ambrose, Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty are with the California State 4-H Office at the University of California’s Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources. Steven, Martin, and Lynn are members of CSTA


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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.