October 2007 // Volume 45 // Number 5 // Ideas at Work // 5IAW4

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Creating a 4-H Technology Camp for Middle School Youth

A pilot program for middle school youth focusing on building knowledge and skills in science and technology was planned and delivered by university and community partners in a resident camp setting. In-depth classes were taught by volunteer university faculty and community professionals. The small classes and engaged instructors lead to positive camper knowledge gains. The evaluation showed that campers liked their classes and were interested in learning more about the topics, but were less interested in getting a job that involved the topics. Post-camp evaluation showed 100% of campers were interested in retuning to the camp program in 2007.

Virginia D. Bourdeau
Associate Professor and Extension 4-H Specialist
Oregon State University
Salem, Oregon

Erin Taylor
Assistant Professor
4-H Youth Business Information Technology
Jackson County Extension
Central Point, Oregon

Oregon State University Extension Service


In January 2006 an eclectic group convened for a 4-H Technology Summit on the Oregon State University (OSU) campus. Participants came from the College of Education, the Department of 4-H Youth Development, Crop and Soil Science, and Chemical Engineering, and there was a mix of non-profit education and for profit corporate partners. From one round table discussion between interested partners, 4-H Totally Technology Middle School summer camp emerged!

The 2003 U.S. Department of Education's Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) showed the following: No measurable changes were detected in the average mathematics and science scores of U.S. fourth-graders between 1995 and 2003. Moreover, the available data suggest that the performance of U.S. fourth-graders in both mathematics and science was lower in 2003 than in 1995 relative to the 14 other countries that participated in both studies.

The fourth graders in the 2003 TIMSS report are now entering middle school. Could a technology education program, in a camp setting, build skills and motivate learners to consider further education and careers in a technology field?

Program Design

Our vision was to have real scientists and professionals volunteer their time to come to the Oregon 4-H Center, 50 miles from the OSU campus, for multiple days to instruct small groups of middle school campers. The 4-H Totally Technology camp program was designed to meet the unique developmental needs of middle school youth and offer an education program very different from traditional 4-H camp.

All classes, called "Tech Topics," were taught by OSU faculty or by professionals from the local community. Campers indicated their choices of Tech Topics on the registration form. Eight Tech Topics were offered. In Electrical Engineering, campers made LED lighted picture frames. Forensic Science included fingerprints at a "crime scene" and working with search and rescue cadaver dogs. The GIS/GPS class included map and compass skills. In Kitchen Science, learners explored chemistry and assisted with meals. Medical Technology demonstrated prosthetics design and the inner workings of an ambulance. In Radical Robotics, learners built a "Bot" to compete in a maze challenge. In Rockets, they calculated the distance rockets could travel with differing fuels and payload weights. Learners in Video Production documented everything.

Beyond the educational focus on technology, we kept many aspects of a traditional 4-H camp. Campers selected their afternoon recreations, had responsibility for chores, made crafts, participated in cabin group activities, sang songs, performed skits, and made snacks around the camp fire.

Outputs and Outcomes

Thirty-one campers came to camp from 14 of Oregon's 36 counties. There were 11 female and 20 male campers. Eleven campers were entering grade 6, 12 entering grade 7, and 7 entering grade 8, and 1 was unreported.

Tech Topics were offered 4 camp days. Campers attended one Tech Topic each day, with 2 hours of instruction in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon. Class size was kept small; no class had more than 12 campers, Kitchen Science was limited to four campers.

Campers were asked to complete an evaluation at the end of each Tech Topic class and also a post camp evaluation on the last day of camp. A retrospective pre-test methodology was used on the Tech Topic evaluations (Pratt, McGuigan, & Katsev, 2000). Campers were asked to rate how much they knew about the Tech Topics before and after the class. A 1-5 point scale was used, with 1 being "Nothing" and 5 being "A lot!" (Figure 1).

Figure 1.
Camper Knowledge Before and After Tech Topics

Campers were also asked to respond to statements about each of their Tech Topic classes. These statements were rated on a 1 - 5 scale, with 1 being "Strongly Disagree" and 5 being "Strongly Agree." Figure 2 shows a comparison of responses to the questions "I liked this Tech Topic class," "I want to learn more about this Tech Topic after camp," and "I would like to have a job doing things I learned about in this class." Campers generally liked their classes and were interested in learning more about the topic, but were less interested in getting a job that involved the topic.

Figure 2.
Comparison of Camper's Attitude Responses for Tech Topics

The quality of counselors and staff contributed to creating a positive overall camp experience for campers. In the post-camp evaluation, campers were asked to rate their experience on a three-point scale, with 1 meaning "None of the Time," 2 meaning "Most of the time," and 3 meaning "All of the Time." Table 3 shows the combined average responses for the camp experience questions.

Table 1.
Post-camp Camper Rating of Experiences

Experience/ActivityThree-Point Scale
I liked the food at camp . . . 2.52
I liked my cabin at camp . . . 2.81
I liked the other campers in my cabin . . .2.48
I felt safe at camp . . .2.81
I liked recreation time at camp . . .2.71
I liked my Tech Topic classes at camp . . .2.74
I liked to do activities with my counselor(s) . . . 2.87
I liked the evening activities with my group . . .2.90


4-H can fill the education gap between school, parents, and communities by harnessing the university's resources to provide non-traditional programs that meet the shift in the educational needs and interests of youth (Schlink, 2000). University and community volunteers joined the vision of providing middle school youth with in-depth science and technology experiences. They planned classes, hauled in (and out) vanloads of equipment, and gave their time.

The small classes and engaged instructors led to positive camper knowledge gains. Campers indicated they were interested in learning more about each subject after camp, but were less interested in a career path in one of the technology fields. We can speculate that additional exposure to a subject might increase understanding and eventually lead to youth selecting science and technology high school and college courses and careers. A longer-term follow-up would be required to document this.

On the post-camp evaluation, campers were asked if they'd like to come to this camp again. Ninety percent "Strongly agreed" and 10% "Agreed" that they would like to come to 4-H Totally Technology Camp again in 2007.


Pratt, C. C., McGuigan, W. M., & Katsev, A. R. (2000). Measuring program outcomes: Using retrospective methodology, The American Journal of Evaluation, 21(3), 341-349.

Schlink, K. (2000). Addressing educational needs of youth in today's society. Journal of Extension [On-line], 38(4). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2000august/comm1.html

Thurber, C. (2006). The digital umbilical: How clear missions guide electronic technology policies. Camping Magazine January/February, 44-51.

U.S Department of Education (2003). Trends in international mathematics and science study. National Center for Education Statistics. Available at: http://nces.ed.gov/timss