Making and Tinkering in 4-H: Part IV

This blog series on the Maker Movement was written by Steven Worker, 4-H Science, Engineering, and Technology Education (SET) Coordinator at the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Steven coordinates the California 4-H SET Initiative, an effort to strengthen youth science education in the 4-H Youth Development Program. In this role, Worker manages professional and volunteer development for educators, coordinates program and curriculum development and evaluation, and resource development. Worker is a PhD candidate at the UC Davis School of Education studying (qualitative case study) the co-construction of design-based learning environments by youth and adult volunteers in out-of-school time. Follow Steven on Twitter at @sworkerpt.

Opportunities for Making and Tinkering in 4-H

Making and tinkering are inherent to 4-H, both historically and culturally, and is deeply embedded in the hundreds of diverse projects in which 4-H youth participate each year. 4-H programs have engaged youth in making since its beginnings with a wide variety of projects: sewing, quilting, gardening, woodworking, and making of things from the land such as raising livestock and growing plants.

I offer these considerations for 4-H professionals who want to rebrand or start a 4-H maker or 4-H tinkering program.

  • Be intentional in programming. 4-H STEM programs are guided by the 4-H Science Checklist which includes an emphasis on positive youth development, extended duration (not one-time activities), and real-life, community connections. How can we start thinking about “4-H Civic Making” programs?
  • The Make:® brand is sponsored by a for-profit corporation so this should be taken into consideration when marketing programs as Maker. This is particularly relevant when one looks at the cover images of Make Magazine® – almost all feature electronics which presents a narrow focus on who can be a Maker. Zero percent (0%) of covers of the past Make Magazines® have featured people of color and only 15% of covers have featured a girl or woman (from Leah Buechley’s keynote at the 2013 FabLearn Conference).
  • We need to strive to broaden the conception of making and who can be a maker by celebrating the 4-H history of making, from cookies and quilts to robots and rockets. 4-H has an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of opportunities currently available in its programs, that 4-H is not “un-cool” or “old-fashioned” within the context of making. This is important when we want to reach diverse and underrepresented audiences need to attend to culturally-relevant types of making including art, clothing, foods, and language.
  • Adopt and contribute to the research on making, tinkering, and design-based learning. While the research-base is growing, it has primarily originated from the science center world and could benefit from research in 4-H and other community-based programs.

I will say, in closing, that we must remember that while making and tinkering are exciting, we must keep in mind that the most successful making effort, aligned with 4-H’s primary mission, has been our role in making young people into happy, healthy, thriving people who contribute to their communities.

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