Any student can be inspired by the possibilities of computer science
4-H and Google work together to introduce students to technology
Decklan Thomas, 15, starts most days helping out his cousin on their West Virginia pig farm or running errands at the hardware store. He also spends time participating in 4-H, the nation’s largest youth development organization, which reaches nearly six million kids in every county and parish in the U.S. During a 4-H robotics workshop, Decklan used blocked-based coding to program a simple robot. At the time, Decklan didn’t even realize that what he was doing was computer science. To him, it just felt like a puzzle.
Decklan was introduced to these new skills through computer science (CS) lessons that 4-H is developing with support from Google. Together, 4-H and Google are working to provide American youth like Decklan with opportunities to learn CS through hands-on projects that they can apply to their interests. In 2017, the two organizations developed 4-H’s first CS playbook – including resources from Scratch, CS First, and Code.org – so that 4-H educators across the country could easily teach youth CS and open their minds to its broad applications. Since then, hundreds of thousands of 4-H students have engaged in coding projects.
Last year, Decklan traveled across five states to Utah to participate in a CS 4-H Teen Leader conference (Using 4-H’s hallmark teens as teachers model, CS 4-H Teen Leaders have raised their hands to teach CS to their peers). After exploring with teens around the country on how CS can be applied to various industries, Decklan is starting to make plans for his future. He’s thinking about going to college for history or biomedical engineering. He's also considering the Navy or helping run the family trucking business. No matter what path he chooses, Decklan feels that learning CS through 4-H has helped him dream bigger.
But for now, he’s pursuing his original plan of becoming a diesel mechanic and staying in his hometown. He’s inspired to use his newfound skills to transform how his family manages their farm; for example, he coded a simple program for keeping track of the locations of their tractors. And he’s brainstorming ways to bring CS to his community, including petitioning his high school to set up a formal class. Decklan doesn’t consider himself a programming whiz; he just likes to see the things he can do with code.
To extend these learning opportunities to more youth, Google.org has made a $6 million grant to build on 2017’s $1.5 million grant to 4-H – Google’s largest CS education grant to date. The grant is part of Grow with Google, an initiative to develop people’s skills, businesses, and careers for the workforce of the future by giving them access to Google’s training and tools.
4-H will use the grant to provide learning resources and training to educators. In addition, Google will support 4-H with 250+ Googlers who will contribute more than 1,000 volunteer hours including coaching 4-H Teen Leaders. Over the next three years alone, the program is on track to reach more than one million 4-H youth, 60% who live in rural communities, with meaningful CS experiences. Google’s ongoing commitment ensures that students like Decklan have the opportunity to become creators, not just consumers, of technology.
Google’s continued investment in 4-H means that Decklan is just one of hundreds of thousands of teens set to be inspired and empowered by the opportunities that CS offers. Working on coding projects and puzzles isn’t only good for fostering the next generation of software engineers. It also helps kids develop skills like analytical and critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and teamwork – which are useful no matter their career path.
Parents and teens who are interested in participating in a 4-H CS project should contact their local county 4-H organization.