$2.5M grant steers 4-H robotics curriculum into nation’s schools

Jan 8th, 2009 | By | Category: Campus News, Issue, January 8, 2009

Nebraska 4-H is emerging as a national leader in science education, thanks to a nearly $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation that is taking 4-H robotics and GPS/GIS curriculum national.

The new grant, “Scale-Up: National Robotics in 4-H: Workforce Skills for the 21st Century,” allows 4-H to expand its current program, offered mostly to Nebraska youth, to youth from across the United States, said Bradley Barker, UNL 4-H science and technology specialist and one of the project’s leaders.

The idea, Barker said, is to get young people excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, not just now but for the rest of their lives.

Bradley Barker
GOING NATIONAL – Bradley Barker, 4-H specialist, shows off one of the robots used in 4-H robotics curriculum. A $2.5 million National Science Foundation grant is taking the UNL-based program – which introduces robotics to children – national. Photo by Brett Hampton/IANR News Service.

“Robotics is a great integration of all those concepts, all those academic areas,” Barker said. “We make it fun for them. They’re building, they’re programming, they’re hands-on.”

Targeted at students in grades 5-9, the 4-H Robotics and Geospatial Project is built on a 40-hour summer camp experience that features hands-on activities that teach principles of robotics and geospatial technologies in promoting learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Following the summer camps, participants go back to their 4-H clubs and after-school programs for monthly meetings to build on what they learn. Then, in year two, they attend an advanced summer camp, followed by eight more months of activities in their home communities.

During summer 2007, the project was piloted with two camps, followed by formation of several pilot clubs. During summer 2008, 150 youths attended six camps, and 13 clubs will meet during the 2008-09 school year.

This new five-year grant expands the curriculum’s reach, first in the North Central Region, then nationally.

“This type of technology is exciting enough that once you get people at any age working with it, they want to learn more,” said Viacheslav Adamchuk, associate professor in biological systems engineering and the project’s other principal investigator.


Research results from the pilot camps show the program works: Students who participated in the five-day camp last summer showed a 30 percent increase in science, technology, engineering and math learning. Also, their attitudes toward those disciplines improved from 3.88 to 4.10 on a five-point scale.

Barker said plans are to build a new, affordable educational robotics kit with an integrated GPS chip receiver for the national project. Bing Chen, professor of computer and electronic engineering, and his team will lead the development of the new robotics platform based on work he’s done in his classroom.


Chen is recognized as a national leader in this area. Last year, he received a $3 million NSF grant for an Omaha-based team using small robots to help middle school students learn science, technology, engineering and math.

Working with its partners – the National 4-H Council and National After School Association – Nebraska 4-H will contract with several trainers that will train others to deliver the program. Initially, that will be 40 trainers in three regions.

The first step will be to hire a project manager and instructional designer, Barker said.

— Story by Dan Moser, IANR News Service

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