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Creative Design

Two young girls with red hair and matching pink shirts stand next to each other with a hand on the hip.
Zadie and Kyra Baughtmann, Franklin County 4-H’ers

4-H engineering program moves online

Story by Keri Collins Lewis • Photos by Kevin Hudson

Eight-year-old twins Zadie and Kyra Baughtmann love to build with LEGO bricks, so, when they learned about the virtual 4-H summer camp available in June, they eagerly signed up.

The sisters have been members of the Franklin County 4-H Creative Arts Club as Cloverbuds since they were eligible. They enjoy developing creative arts projects in the youth development program created by the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Two young girls with red hair working with Legos.
The twins wanted to finish every project.

They also attended a face-to-face 4-H LEGO Engineering summer project in 2019, developed by Dr. Mariah Morgan, assistant Extension professor in the Extension Center for Technology Outreach.

When comparing their previous experience with the virtual format, they affirm they appreciated the opportunity to engage in building activities, but they missed the personal connections.

“I wanted to meet Ms. Mariah in person,” Kyra explains.

“And our friends,” Zadie adds. “But at least we got to see them.”

Morgan’s curriculum, On the Farm, walks 4-H’ers through six lessons that connect agricultural

information, hands-on experiences, and national and state educational standards within the context of the engineering design process and agricultural literacy.

Each lesson offers a construction task for participants to complete with LEGOs, such as creating a lunch box for a farmer’s lunch and designing and building insects.

“I wanted to quit on bug day, because it was hard,” Kyra confesses. “But I also wanted to figure it out and finish.”

Morgan provided kits with materials to complete the projects, along with some items to help keep everyone engaged while in the virtual environment.

“Research shows youths and adults need a break from the computer every 20 minutes, so we factored in different types of breaks,” Morgan shares. “They dressed up like farmers and we had a fashion show, and we did ‘lamb yoga,’ which involved them creating different animal poses while holding an inflatable ball that had a picture of a lamb on it.”

Morgan faced an array of challenges posed by moving this hands-on camp to the online environment, from technological issues to shyness. Most activities had to be restructured from group activities to individual tasks.

“Working in the virtual environment is different from being in the same room as the children,” she explains. “It takes time to think through how to make the entire process interactive. It’s not just doing the same things in front of a camera. We are trying to get them to understand that something might not work the first time, but that’s OK. How can we do it better or different next time?”

Overhead shot of two young girls with red hair working with Legos.
Working with Legos

She created lessons to train Extension agents to deliver the curriculum to their own clubs online via Zoom. She recorded a set of lessons for 4-H’ers that were copied onto flash drives so children could participate whether or not they had reliable internet access. More than half of the participants used this option.

The twins joined Morgan and 30 other 4-H’ers online for the 5-day camp held for about an hour each day.

“Everyone definitely wanted to share what they had been doing,” Morgan says. “The virtual camp provided them an outlet to see other children and connect.”

That Extension provides such opportunities is no surprise to the twins’ mom, Samantha Baughtmann, who grew up showing livestock in 4-H. After all, Cynthia Wilkinson, Extension agent in Franklin County, is Samantha’s mother and “Gigi” to her daughters.

“Even in the midst of uncertainty, Extension builds community and skills,” Morgan concludes. “We work with youth, hoping to convey we are still here, and that you keep moving and learning in the face of uncertainty. Community doesn’t stop just because we are living in uncertain times.”

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