PHOTO: Katie Pratt, UK agricultural communications specialist
An oil spill had contaminated Bailey Beach, and it was up to a team of young engineers to design and construct a barrier capable of containing the spill and a robot capable of cleaning it up as quickly as possible.
This was the premise of the 2012 National 4-H Youth Science Day’s Eco-Bot Challenge. While the oil spill was only rice on a grid map of a fictional beach, the experiment provided Kentucky 4-H’ers an opportunity to design and build a contamination barrier and a robot capable of cleaning up the spill using a pager motor, a toothbrush head and a battery.
It was an experiment that hit home for Hunter Story, a fifth-grader and environmental club member at Southside Elementary School in Versailles who’s interested in technology and animals.
“It was kind of a challenge,” she said. “It was like you were saving the area around the spill.”
Like Hunter, many kids are concerned about the environment and want to improve and protect it, said Jenny Cocanougher, Woodford County 4-H youth development agent with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.
It was also a perfect experiment for an environmental club, which was why Southside Elementary teachers and environmental club leaders Pam Shouse and Tom Sheldon were interested in it.
“Hopefully, after the culminating event, it was apparent to them that oil spills are real-life issues and as future engineers, they will have to develop solutions,” Shouse said.
Mike Huster, a longtime 4-H volunteer and mechanical engineer, saw the project as a chance to share his occupation with future engineers. In addition to helping the students with the experiment, Huster brought a robot he built to show the 4-H’ers how to apply the concepts they are learning to real life.
“When I went to school, we didn’t have a lot of robotics,” he said. “My enjoyment is to see the kids’ eyes light up as they work with the robots.”
National 4-H Youth Science Day has occurred for the past five years in 4-H clubs and classrooms across Kentucky and the nation. This year’s official day was Oct. 10, but Kentucky 4-H youth development agents have helped 4-H’ers conduct the science experiment since September. Many of these experiments will continue past Oct. 10, as 4-H agents and science teachers find other opportunities to use them as enrichment activities for after-school clubs or to enhance classroom curriculum.
Josh Mullins, Leslie County 4-H youth development agent, is using the experiment as a starting activity for his in-school science clubs. He’ll reach 300 fourth- and fifth-graders with this activity.
“Hopefully, these activities will show 4-H’ers that science is not just in a textbook,” he said. “Science is real. It’s getting your hands dirty, building things, exploring, and really a whole different world.”
In Marshall County, 4-H Program Assistant Carol Thompson enlarged the beach grid to allow larger groups of 4-H’ers to work on the experiment in an elementary after-school club. In total, 150 elementary students have conducted the experiment thus far, and Thompson plans to use the experiment again with a middle school after-school club.
While the experiments are designed to allow 4-H’ers to explore a specific area of science, Thompson said they are learning much more.
“The 4-H’ers now have further knowledge of working as a team, the environmental clean-up process and engineering design,” she said.
Jenny Cocanougher, 859-873-4601; Carol Thompson, 270-527-3285; Josh Mullins, 606-672-2154; Torey Earle, 270-534-3105; Jann Burks, 859-257-5961, ext. 80986