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Building Quality 4-H Clubs and Groups

A picture containing an adult helping a youth

Photo By National 4-H Council

Positive youth development is an intentional process that promotes positive outcomes for youth by providing opportunities that build on young people’s strengths and fostering positive relationships with peers and caring adults (Youth.Gov, 2020).  4-H uses many different strategies to promote the healthy development of youth; but how do we know if positive youth development is really happening in our clubs and programs?  One way to be confident that your club is nurturing opportunities for positive youth development is to look for signs that positive youth development is taking place. In the business and education realms, this is known as “continuous improvement.” Continuous improvement is using information (such as data, observation, or self-reflection) to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of an educational program or initiative (Clark et al., 2013). 4-H has been doing continuous improvement from the very start, when the 4-H Motto “make the best better” was adopted in 1920 (4-H History Preservation Program, 2010).  Evaluating the 4-H program is a shared responsibility between faculty and staff and volunteers and helps us demonstrate the 4-H Motto to our members. While the evaluation of the total 4-H program tends to be more formal, volunteers can use feedback, self-reflection, and quality standards to continuously improve the programs so that youth can have the optimum positive youth development experience.  This blog post offers three solid strategies to help 4-H professionals, volunteers, parents, and youth leaders continuously improve the 4-H groups or clubs they work with. 

Feedback helps 4-H staff and volunteers close the gap between our current performance and desired performance (Pearson, 2016). Our desired performance is that 4-H experiences provide opportunities for youth to thrive while exploring their sparks in a safe environment, guided by a caring adult. Feedback should be relatively simple. You can solicit feedback from youth, parents or even other volunteers. One simple way to get feedback from younger youth is to have them complete the Clover Feedback Form. Youth can write or draw a picture about what they learned, what they would like to learn, what they enjoy about 4-H (how it makes them feel), and what they would change if they could.  

Self-reflection is like feedback, but instead of asking others to describe what is (and isn’t) taking place 4-H staff and volunteers reflect on what worked well and what could be enhanced to encourage positive youth development in their club or program. Self-reflection can help 4-H professionals and volunteers reflect on what is working well and what can be improved. Some questions you might ask yourself include (adapted from Thiran, 2018):

  1. Is my reason for being a 4-H volunteer/youth leader the same now as it was when I started?
  2. Do I make myself accessible to my members, parents, and other volunteers?
  3. Do I seek input or feedback from my members and parents?
  4. If I were a 4-H member, how might I rate myself?
  5. Is my club/program vibrant? If not, why not?

The 4-H Quality Checklist is a simple tool to see if elements of positive youth development are taking place in your club or program. The checklist can help identify areas where your club is strong, as well as areas for improvement. 

Taking time to check in with yourself, your members, and your parents can provide opportunities to apply our motto “Make the Best Better.”  Leaders and 4-H professionals should set aside time at least annually to evaluate where the club or program is, and whether it is providing opportunities for youth to experience positive youth development. After spending some time thinking about continuous improvement for your club or program, discuss your findings with your local 4-H professional.  

References: 

Help us Build a Network of Subject Matter Experts

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What is Subject Matter Expertise?

Subject matter expertise refers to the “technical knowledge and skills possessed to perform tasks related to a specific field(s)” (Harder, 2019).   While county 4-H professionals (also known as agents) often bring subject matter expertise in one or more areas to the job, the subject matter expertise of program volunteers helps to expand the availability of potential program offerings.  As an organization, 4-H strives to provide opportunities for learning evidence-based content (subject matter) and apply age-appropriate positive youth development (PYD) strategies to facilitate experiential learning via a collaborative youth-adult partnership.

What is a Subject Matter Expert?

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) “are professionals who have advanced knowledge in a specific field” (Indeed, 2020). Generally, an SME will have “a deep understanding of a particular job, process, department, function, technology, machine, material or type of equipment” (Reh, 2020).   In the workplace, being known as an SME is part of a career trajectory and this role or status is often based on a combination of education or training and experience.  In the 4-H setting, it is possible that a subject matter expert has gained expertise through informal learning and hands-on experience.  The 4-H subject matter expert may not always work professionally in the area of expertise that they bring to 4-H.   For example, a skilled volunteer may work as a nurse in their professional career but leads a 4-H sewing club where she can share a deep knowledge subject knowledge and extensive skills gained through years of practice and self-guided study.

Why is Subject Matter Expertise Important to 4-H?

In 4-H, adult staff members and community volunteers work as partners with youth members to help youth “learn by doing.”  The 4-H learning experience is based on the idea that “learning is an integrated process where the learner, the educator, the physical space, and culture all are changed by each other” (NIFA, 2016).  4-H clubs provide youth with opportunities to learn subject matter and develop life skills (Knowles and Diem, 2018).

While adults and youth may learn a new skill or acquire new knowledge together in a discovery process, the most common 4-H experience involves working with a subject matter expert who will help to facilitate experiential learning. 4-H learning is intended to be a “dynamic experience in a shifting learning ecosystem” (NIFA, 2016).  Together, 4-H staff and community volunteers work together to bring new research and best practices into the learning experience.

How Do We Find Subject Matter Experts?

One way that 4-H can provide specialized subject matter content is through partnerships. For example, 4-H has been successful in partnering with industry professionals and university faculty to implement a variety of STEM programs. A multiyear partnership with NASA has provided many opportunities for youth to explore the world of aerospace science. However, it is not necessary to be a rocket scientist to have subject matter expertise that can be helpful to a 4-H program.

In 4-H, agents have several options available to help develop volunteer subject matter expertise.  Agents may look for potential volunteers with specific subject matter expertise to match youth interests.  Another option is to engage a caring adult volunteer with a desire to learn an unfamiliar skill or acquire a new knowledge set.  For example, a 4-H agent with youth members who want to have a beekeeping club may find a local beekeeper to be a club leader.   Another way to match a volunteer with a potential beekeeping club would be to find the adult and arrange for them to attend an Extension education program on beekeeping.  Finally, it is also possible to have a volunteer with positive youth development skills that can lead a club and invite guest speakers with expertise to provide subject matter content.

Over time, youth may also become subject matter experts.  For example, youth members in Wakulla participated in a poultry science club as Cloverbud and Junior members. After several years of completing projects and participating in competitions, these youth have gained considerable subject matter expertise and have started to teach content and skills to other youth at annual workshops.

Volunteers who want to increase their subject matter knowledge and expertise will find a wealth of resources within 4-H and the larger world of Cooperative Extension.   Varied modes of learning are possible – from online seminars, to resource-rich publications, to hands-on experiential learning.   For example, volunteers had the opportunity to network with subject matter experts and have robust experiential learning opportunities during our Northwest 4-H Volunteer Forum. After the Forum weekend, volunteers shared that the the event provided opportunities for them to network and connect with other volunteers to gain access to subject matter and experiential expertise.  By popular demand, the Northwest 4-H Volunteer Forum will return in January 2023.  Watch this space for additional details on how to connect and be part of the weekend event!

How to Get Involved

Do you have a passion for a particular subject matter area, or do you have a skill that you want to share? A variety of volunteer roles with 4-H are possible.  Volunteers may serve as club leaders or project leaders, or be a guest instructor, or be a judge for a competition. We would like to build a directory of subject matter experts to support 4-H volunteers and clubs across the Florida Panhandle. If you have expertise you would like to share, please complete this short survey.

Remember, you do not necessarily have to be a subject matter expert to get started as a 4-H volunteer!  If you are a caring adult with a desire to learn new skills and play an important role in the lives of youth in your local community, 4-H can help you gain new skills to help guide youth in a transformative learning experience. We offer subject matter trainings for volunteers throughout the year on a variety of topics.

For more information about how to become a 4-H volunteer, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office.

 

Resources

4-H Learning Experience

Priorities Competencies for County Faculty

Subject Matter Expert

The 4-H Volunteer Training Series

What is Subject Matter Expert?

 

 

Join us in Destin to Navigate the World of 4-H

We are excited to announce registration for our 2023 Northwest Florida 4-H Volunteer Forum will open on October 15th!  This post contains all the details about our event- who, what, when, where, and how. We hope you will plan to join us for an inspirational Friday night and Saturday as we connect with each other, learn together, and share our successes. Our theme is “Navigating the World of 4-H.” Together, we will learn about empowering youth, inspiring hope, and helping young people reach their full potential.

 WHO

Our volunteer forum is for teen and adult volunteers leading and supporting 4-H clubs, groups, or programs in the northwest Extension district.

WHAT

A weekend (Friday night and Saturday) event full of inspirational speakers, hands-on workshops, and opportunities to connect with and support other volunteers!  Topics were identified based on last year’s forum participants’ feedback. We wanted to highlight some of the activities you won’t want to miss:

Friday night kicks off with our “Make and Take” Fair. Try out a wide variety of fun and exciting 4-H activities you can use with the clubs or groups you work with. There will be selections to support all three 4-H pillar project areas- Healthy Living, STEM (science), and Citizenship/Leadership. During the Make and Take Fair, heavy hors d’oeuvres will be served and you will have the opportunity to test out the activities and take home samples and instructions to share with your youth, parents, and other volunteers.

After the make and take, we will have a fun icebreaker, and Dr. Stacey Ellison, our 4-H Program Leader, will speak and give a “state of 4-H” update. Volunteers are encouraged to network and mingle after her address.

Saturday morning will inspire!  Gulf County 4-H Alumnus and best-selling author, Cedric Lennox, will share how his Florida 4-H experiences taught him about youth empowerment and how we can all be “Dealers of Hope.”

Following the keynote address, volunteers will be able to select from a variety of workshops:

  • Parliamentary Procedure
  • 4-H Food Challenge
  • Working with Cloverbuds
  • Clothing & Textiles
  • Diversity & Inclusion
  • Icebreakers & Team Building
  • 4-H Sportsfishing
  • Experiential Learning (Do-Reflect-Apply)
  • 4-H Portfolios and Awards

During lunch, connect with other volunteers who have similar interests as you to start building a community of practice for your 4-H clubs and groups!

After lunch, there will be more workshop selections for volunteers to choose from.

We will close our forum by sharing some exciting new resources- including a fundraising toolkit for 4-H volunteers (and more door prizes!).

WHEN

January 20-21st.

WHERE

Embassy Suites in Destin, Florida. No need to make a reservation- your registration is your hotel reservation confirmation!

HOW

Registration opens in 4Holine on October 15th. The deadline to register is Friday, January 6th. Check with your local UF/IFAS Extension office to inquire about carpooling to and from the event. Dress for the weekend is casual (and comfortable)- we will be at the beach!

HOW MUCH

Thanks to donations from the Florida 4-H Foundation and other partners, the registration fee for individuals sharing a suite with another volunteer is $100.  The registration fee for a private suite is $150.  The registration fee includes the room fee, a conference welcome bag, magnetic name tag, heavy hors d’oeuvres Friday night, breakfast and lunch on Saturday, plus workshop and make and take supplies. Many counties are offering scholarships, so please check with your local UF/IFAS 4-H Extension Agent about additional funding.

Enrollment is Open for 4-H Chick Chain 2022!

girl holding rosette

Do you love learning about animals and agriculture? Chick Chain might be the perfect project for you! The 4-H Chick Chain is a program where youth learn how to raise pullets (young chicks) to full-grown layers. It is the perfect way to start your own small flock of chickens to keep your family supplied with fresh eggs. This program is also designed to help youth learn about animal ethics, biosecurity, and nutrition. As youth participate in the project, they have the opportunity to practice decision-making, critical thinking, and communication skills. This blog post will give an overview of the program and answer frequently asked questions to help you decide if this project is right for your child. Enrollment for this year’s program will close at the end of September, so only a few weeks left to sign up!

What is 4-H Chick Chain?

Chick Chain is a 4-H project where youth from the 16 counties in Northwest Florida learn how to raise, care for, and show chickens. At the end of the project, there is an opportunity for youth to show their chicken as well as what they have learned while raising their animals. The short video below gives you a great overview of what your child will learn and do in the Northwest Florida 4-H Chick Chain.

What is Required to Participate in this Project?

During the months of August and September, youth enroll (or re-enroll) in 4-H and sign up for the Chick Chain project. Youth can participate through a club or as an independent member. During the months of September and October, youth set up their brooders and either hatch or begin raising pullets. There are lots of great resources on our website to help new families set up a brooder and start caring for their chicks, and your local UF/IFAS Extension Office is available to answer any questions you may have. During December, January, and February, youth will have the opportunity to participate in workshops to learn showmanship, complete their record book, and prepare for the show. First-time members will compete in a skill-a-thon during the show. Returning members can choose to complete an entrepreneurship project or give an illustrated talk or demonstration about poultry. There will be workshops to help returning members prepare. The culminating event is March 11th- the District-wide Chick Chain show in Chipley, Florida at the UF/IFAS Washington County Extension Office. Youth will demonstrate their project knowledge and be recognized for their achievements.

What Types of Chickens can I Raise this Year?

Where do I Sign up?

New 4-H members will need to enroll in 4Honline; returning members will re-enroll in 4Honline. When you enroll (or re-enroll), you will select “4-H Chick Chain” as your club, and “Poultry Science” as your project. You can select other projects if you desire, but those two items must be selected to enroll in the Chick Chain program. There is a $25.00 fee to enroll in the program- this fee covers expenses related to the workshops and show.

Who do I contact if I need help with my project?

Start with your county UF/IFAS Extension 4-H Agent. He or she has the contacts/information you need to be successful in your project. Never be afraid to ask questions or for help!

What is showmanship?

Your ability to handle your bird and your poultry knowledge is the focus of showmanship. You’ll interact one-on-one with an experienced poultry judge demonstrating the steps of showmanship, breed knowledge, and general poultry knowledge. Attitude, appearance, speaking ability, care, management skills, and willingness to follow instructions are all on stage. The best way to learn about showmanship is to watch the videos on our website, and attend one of the Poultry Perfection workshops (we have three different locations and dates to accommodate everyone). During the workshop, we will teach you how to wash, groom, and handle your bird. We will also practice talking to the judge and review what to wear on showmanship day.  Showmanship classes are divided by 4-H age divisions:

  • Cloverbud – 5-7 years old

  • Junior – 8-10 years old

  • Intermediate – 11-13 years old

  • Senior – 14-18 years old

What is a Skill-A-Thon?

This is a hands-on contest for you to show off what you have learned throughout your project and is required for 1st-year participants. There may be questions on identifying breeds of chickens, how to set up a brooder, types of combs and how to choose the correct feed. You’ll learn this information during your project and at the Poultry Perfection Workshop.

What is the Entrepreneurship Project?

Instead of the skill-a-thon, returning project members can choose to participate in the entrepreneurship challenge or give a demonstration or illustrated talk. The entrepreneurship challenge is a business plan based on services or goods related to your poultry project. For example, you might create a business plan for selling eggs to your neighborhood or composted chicken manure to gardeners. We will guide you through taking your idea and turning it into a business plan that you will communicate to a team of judges.

What is a Demonstration or Illustrated Talk?

A demonstration is a show and tell presentation where you demonstrate how to do something. This might include how to set up a brooder, how to read a feed tag, or how to candle and egg. An illustrated talk is a presentation with visuals and tells about something. This could include telling about different breeds of chickens, telling how to inspect your chicken coop for disease/biosecurity, or how to judge a chicken.

Where Can I Find Project Resources?

Everything you need is available on our website!  There is a handy timeline, information about setting up your brooder, feeding and caring for your animals, preparing for showmanship, and much more! You can download and print a copy of your record book, or you can fill it out online. The website is where all the most current information is housed, so you will want to bookmark it for easy access!

For more information, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office. You can find more information about the 4-H poultry project on our poultry project page!

2022 4-H Tailgate Contest Winners- and Recipe Book!

Did you get to do any grilling this summer?  Many of our 4-Hers did! Over 100 youth from throughout the Florida panhandle participated in 4-H summer day camps that taught them food and fire safety, safe grilling, and proper cooking skills.

Day camps offered unique experiences to youth on grilling techniques all summer and helped youth prepare for our District Competition. On July 30, 2022, 28 youth from eight counties participated in the Northwest District Tailgating Contest at the Washington County Ag Center in Chipley, Florida.  Youth participated in competitions in beef, pork, chicken, and shrimp divisions and were judged on their food and fire safety skills around the grill and the taste of their chosen protein.  In all, $3,200 was awarded to panhandle youth for placing 1st-4th in their competitions.

Now the top two youth in each protein category will compete at the Florida 4-H Tailgating Contest in Gainesville on October 1, 2022.  They will compete against youth from across Florida for an opportunity to win college scholarships.  For the state contest, the first-place winner in each protein area receives a $1,500 college scholarship and the second-place winner receives a $1,000 college scholarship.

Join us as we cheer on the following NW District 4-H participants as they represent us at the Florida 4-H State Tailgating Contest:

2022 Seafood Category Winners

  • 2022 Beef Category Winners

    Beef Division

    • Aubrie D.-Escambia County
    • Aidden Y.-Walton County
  • Pork Division
    • Brooke H.-Escambia County
    • Cate B.-Okaloosa County
  • Chicken Division
    • Vanessa E.-Wakulla County
    • Jamison S.-Jackson County
  • Shrimp Division
    • Addie M.-Escambia County

      2022 Pork Category Winners

    • Mason K.-Escambia County

      2022 Chicken Category Winners

If you are interested in furthering your grilling skills, please check out the Florida 4-H Tailgate Series of EDIS documents.  If you would like more information on the Tailgating Contest to prepare for next year, check out our brand new handbook!  Finally, the top two winners in each protein category are sharing their award-winning recipes in this free, downloadable eBook!

Teaching Strategies for 4-H Volunteers (Part 1)

girl building robotWhether you are a teen helping with a day camp, or an adult leading a club- it helps to have some tips and tricks in your back pocket to teach the content you want 4-H members to learn. 4-H volunteers and professionals often find themselves teaching a wide variety of audiences with different needs for learning. Trying to meet all those needs can sometimes seem overwhelming, but this week and next, our blog will focus on six specific strategies that will make this much easier- especially with practice! This blog post will discuss and give examples of three teaching strategies that can up your teaching and facilitation game- spacing, interleaving, and retrieval practice.

Why Bother? Isn’t the 4-H Curriculum “Good Enough?”

Some 4-H curricula have teaching strategies embedded within them. Some just have activities structured to help youth learn content. Learning and applying a few of these teaching strategies will make your teaching more interesting and engaging to a wider range of 4-H members. Engagement + interest = more fun for everyone!

Spacing

The term “spacing” simply means to spread learning out over time. When information is learned over the course of several weeks, months, or even years, youth (and adults) are more likely to retain that information than if it were dumped on them over several hours or days. This is why 4-H projects are so effective- youth often stay with the same project for one or more years, learning more complex information each year until they have mastered the content. Some project work even leads to future careers.

Here is an example of how you might apply spacing to the youth you work with in 4-H: One of the things youth want to do this year is participate in the Consumer Choices contest. Rather than teaching a marathon Saturday workshop the week before the contest, start early and introduce the concepts slowly either as part of a club meeting or an extra session before or after the regular club meeting time.

  • Meeting #1- Explain why consumer skills are essential, what the topics for this year’s contest are, and the contest rules
  • Meeting #2- Review cell phone plans and portable speakers (two of the topics). Demonstrate how to fill out a judging card and practice judging situations for cell phone plans and speakers.
  • Meeting #3- Review ground transportation and smoothies (two more topics). Review how to fill out a judging card and practice judging situations.
  • Meeting #4- Explain what oral reasons are- have an older youth demonstrate or what videos of youth giving oral reasons. Next, hold a mock contest and let youth practice giving oral reasons.

 Interleaving (not to be confused with interweaving)

Interleaving means switching between topics. This allows youth opportunities to practice life skills in different situations. This helps reinforce the life skills that we teach in 4-H. For example, judging contest strategies are the same- it’s just the content that changes from contest to contest. Judging contests help youth learn about different topics, but the real value is they are learning how to think critically, communicate clearly, and work as a team. Applying those same skills to different subject matter helps youth learn lifelong skills (not just how to regurgitate facts). Here’s an example of interleaving that builds on the consumer choices example above:

The youth you work with will also want to learn about robotics, so you introduce an activity from the 4-H Junk Drawer Robotics curriculum. You divide the youth up into groups of three to complete a challenge to build a robot that draws. While teaching, refer back to what youth learned about critical thinking when they competed as a team in consumer choices. What did they learn about communication and teamwork?  Ask them to apply those lessons to this situation when building a robot.

Retrieval Practice

boy building air plane

4H youth work together in a drone course. Photo taken 10-15-18.

One of the best ways to strengthen your memory is to practice retrieving that information from your brain!  Many of our 4-H curricula include games that allow youth to practice information retrieval. Quiz bowls and skill-a-thon stations are two great ways to incorporate retrieval practice. Here is an example of retrieval practice that builds upon the consumer choices example:

Youth enjoyed participating in the consumer choices contest and asked if they could do more activities like that. Your local 4-H agent suggested a program called “Living on My Own” which is a financial simulation that helps teach financial literacy skills. As the youth rotate through the stations, they retrieved and practiced some of the consumer skills they learned earlier as they decided on housing, transportation, food, and other items based on their simulated salary and living situation. Being about to recall and practice these skills helps reinforce financial literacy.

One of the best things about 4-H is it is learner-centered. That means that youth can choose what they want to do and learn in 4-H. Your local 4-H Extension Office can help you find the best curriculum to support your youths’ learning needs, but the curriculum is only part of learning. 4-H supports learning (usually referred to as a project) through a variety of competitive and non-competitive events. The three strategies described in this post can help volunteers and 4-H professionals link learning between projects and activities. Next week’s post will explore three more strategies for teaching youth- elaboration, concrete examples, and duel coding.

References:  

  • Potter, S. (2021). Educational Design and Delivery – Utilization of Multiple Teaching Strategies. 4-H VKRC Fact Sheets.
  • Weinstein, Y., Madan, C. R., & Sumeracki, M. A. (2018). Teaching the science of learning. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 3, 2. https://cognitiveresearchjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s41235-017-0087-y
  • Weinstein, Y, Sumeracki, M & Caviglioli, O (2019) Understanding how we learn: A visual guide. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon, UK.