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Google joins 4-H, gives $1.5M to create computer science program


The Exponent Telegram

KINGWOOD, W.Va.  — Google is joining 4-H.

The Internet technology company and America’s largest youth development organization are teaming up for a first-of-its-kind computer science collaboration that will teach kids technical skills like coding, and essential life skills like teamwork and resilience.

Two Preston County 4-Hers — Abbyrose Sisler and Decklan Thomas, both members of the Lenox Loyal Workers Club — got to see it firsthand while representing West Virginia at a two-and-a-half-day computer science training held from July 24-27 near Salt Lake City, Utah. Utah State University Extension’s 4-H program helped create the 4-H CS Career Pathway and developed tools for educators to implement the program.

Thomas and Sisler were the only West Virginians who attended.

The National 4-H Council had announced at the Illinois State Fair that is giving a $1.5 million grant to fund the collaboration that will empower more than 100,000 young people across 22 states, including West Virginia, in its first year. West Virginia’s share of the grant will last one year, said Preston County 4-H Exten sion Agent David Hartley.

“Abbyrose and Decklan did all different types of computer science activities, from interactive to unplugged to online programs that they can use to train other young people,” Hartley said.

With Google’s support, 4-H will equip community educators with new funding, curriculum, training, devices and the support of Google CS experts. As with most 4-H programs, the effort will feature teen-led, peer-to-peer mentoring.

Sisler said she learned how to use the technology, as well as methods to teach it.

“They say teens can get a point across to young kids better than some adults because we are their role models,” she said.

Hartley said West Virginia 4-H is hoping to hold a coding camp in January, and Thomas and Sisler may have a part in teaching different components they learned in Utah. He also hopes to have them demonstrate something at the Preston County Buckwheat Festival later this month.

“We now have access to websites that are fun and easy to use that can be used to teach the basics when it comes to creating and coding,” said Sisler, a Preston High senior. “We played fun games that were considered ‘unplugged activities’ that required us to learn to think computationally. For example, there was an activity where we had a bunch of steps to be cut out on a piece of paper. These were steps to make a paper airplane. So, you chose whichever steps you thought would make your airplane fly the best — you could only pick six out of nine — ordered them, and then handed your procedure to the next person. They would have to construct your airplane with only the steps you handed them. It showed us that a computer relies on your specific instructions to create the finished product you want.”

Sisler and Thomas will serve in ambassador roles, talking up their experiences in local club meetings and sharing the things they got to do.

“The part I enjoyed most, besides making new friends, was probably learning about the scratch program,” said Thomas, a junior at Preston High. “It allows you to program a character to move, dance, talk, almost whatever you want through a simple drag-and-drop programming website app. With the ARIS program (a tool for making location-based games, stories and artwork) we created a game sort of like Pokemon Go.”

Sisler said she is impressed that virtual reality has evolved so much since she last experienced it a year ago.

“It can link multiple devices to take, say, a group of school children on a field trip within a classroom. That, to me, was awesome.”

Sisler said the trip wasn’t all work and no play.

“We also got to visit museums and learn about Utah itself while we were there,” she said. “Kids from Utah showed off things they had created with the University of Utah, such as a robot that scuttled along and could aim and toss a ball to you.”

The project is the start of an official 4-H Computer Science Career Pathway, which helps kids progress from casual interest in computer science to dedicated studies and ultimately career experience.

“I am most likely heading into a career in graphic design, which can incorporate computer science,” Sisler said. “I suppose it would be considered more of a STEM career, but the same rules apply. Just add art.”

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