As AI and new technology continues to permeate society, Maryland 4-H educators are prioritizing tech-forward techniques and skills to enhance youth leadership, teamwork, and community service. That is why the The Waverly Star Wars 4-H After School Program joined forces with the Baltimore Youth STEAM Ambassadors in November to provide instruction to kids from kindergarten to third grade in coding and robotics at the Waverly Branch of the Enoch Free Library.
The 4-H teams, ranging in age from 8 to 14 years old, worked with several apps to demonstrate coding and programming to help build interest in STEAM subjects in the public. To start, students learn how to use Daisy the Dinosaur, an online app that allows kids to learn that a “code” is a simple command. Kids can direct Daisy to do actions like walk or grow using a simple drag-and-drop code in a virtual environment.
“The students had different jobs or roles to serve during the event,” said Albert Lewis, University of Maryland Extension 4-H educator in Baltimore City and leader of the two youth groups. Students then move on to more advanced apps that can use multiple codes to create a “program.” Programs developed in apps like Go or Path can be used to direct a Dash Robot. Dash Robots are simple, small, spherical robots that can perform actions based on programs built in these apps. Kids are able to string together a series of commands and then watch the Dash Robot perform those actions in real time.
“My students aren’t just teaching and learning coding,” said Lewis. “They’re learning teamwork. They’re learning communication skills. They’re learning leadership.”
Lewis also works with his kids on community-mindedness and the concept of service. “The president of the Ambassadors group was tasked with greeting people, and she was shaking hands and leading people into the event area. We had some of the younger ones handing out goodie bags and stickers. Some students were working with the children to teach them at the computers using the Daisy the Dinosaur app, and others were helping with the Dash Robot. And they took their jobs very seriously,” said Lewis. “They learn that the event isn’t about them – it’s about helping others. They understand they’re giving back to the community – they’re being a leader and a coach – the little ones are looking up to them. That’s really fulfilling for them.”
Lewis partnered with the Waverly Branch of the Enoch Free Library, the Maryland STEM Festival organization, and the Waverly School-Age Child Care Center to bring the event to Baltimore, and hopes to hold more STEAM events in the future to help encourage kids to get involved with arts and sciences.
“We want to instill that as a young person, you have the power to influence your community,” said Lewis. “You’re not just a child. You might be a child, but you can have a positive impact on your community.”
Maryland 4-H offers a diverse array of clubs and activities for youth across the state. Students have the opportunity to join local events and clubs focusing on topics as varied as agriculture, cooking, STEAM and robotics, shooting sports, leadership development, community service, and much more. To learn more about 4-H programs in Maryland, go to https://extension.umd.edu/programs/4-h-youth-development. To learn more about local clubs and events, find your county at https://extension.umd.edu/locations.