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4-H Tech Wizards

Tech Wizards Explore Motion and More

Posted: November 23rd, 2015 by rgarrita

Tech Wizards Fall 2015 Mike Judkins with edits by Rose Garritano

JFK Elementary School Tech Wizards started to meet regularly again with the start of the school year and began investigating the energy of motion. Activities included bouncing and rolling ball experiments to explore potential energy, kinetic energy and friction, as well as desk top sail boats and pinwheel power of wind activities.


As culminating events mentees participated in the National Youth Science Day experiment- “Motion Commotion” and also built and launched water bottle rockets which allowed them to explore the relationship between thrust, drag, and gravity and to learn about the various parts of a rocket. As a fall community service effort mentees created safety posters based on their “Motion Commotion” findings to put up in their school to emphasize the importance of wearing                                                                                        seatbelts to others.




Robotics exploration for JFK Elementary Tech Wizards has begun, a unit that these mentees have been eagerly awaiting. Having taken on the role of rocket scientists for the last several weeks, it seemed appropriate to continue thinking along those lines as we moved into robotics. As a group, we discussed the different functions of rocket technologies including space exploration. Mentees were encouraged to think about the ways that rocketry and robotics intersect. Unmanned space crafts utilize robotics technology to navigate their way through the solar system and robotic rovers have been deployed to explore the surfaces of extraterrestrial bodies. Our goal will be to develop an understanding of how these technologies work using a hands-on approach to small-scale robotics construction.

Mentees will be using Lego NXT robotics equipment which is designed to be accessible for new users but also useful for experienced robot builders.  Together, mentors and mentees will build a basic model robot and create several programs for it. Throughout the unit we will continue to think about how this technology relates to the robotics technology used in space exploration and industry. It is very possible that some of our Tech Wizards will be working with these technologies someday!

Below: mentees begin to work on programming for their NXT robots.



Tech Wizards Videography Program

Posted: June 16th, 2015 by rgarrita

Members of the Winooski Elementary School Tech Wizards group explored videography this spring. Specifically targeted life skills include communication and critical thinking. Mentees often worked in pairs, interacting with the mentors as they check in with them, and reported out to the whole group as they reflected on what they have been doing. Mentors observed all mentees successfully communicating and making use of critical thinking skills as they worked with the different settings on flip cameras, iPads, and worked on editing videos. Most mastered or nearly mastered the names of camera parts, the differences and challenges associated with silent movies and those with dialogue, and they made a short film. Most of the mentees mastered vocabulary associated with making films like story board, script, and panoramic shot.

Field Trip to a Television Station

Photo 2 WCAX      Photo I WCAX

As a culminating event the mentees went to the WCAX news station and toured behind the scenes areas where editing takes place, where the meteorologists determine the forecast and assemble weather related graphics as well as the production room where all the clips are merged and coordinated with the live broadcast. After the tour the group sat and watched the live news and weather forecast and needed to be completely silent. A highlight was being able to stand before the green screen and pretend to forecast the weather. Another highlight was the opportunity to see in person people that the kids had seen on TV.

Tour Highlights

Up close and personal with the green screen, A TV viewer’s view of Tech Wizards pretending to give the weather forecast, Learning how the weather forecast is determined and prepared for viewers.








4-H Tech Wizards Learn STEM Skills as Architects and Engineers

Posted: January 8th, 2015 by wizards

There are always opportunities for learning life skills at the Kurn Hattin Homes (Westminster, VT) Tech Wizards site. Mr. Fontaine’s science classes recently executed an extensive ornithology project from start to finish, developing new life skills along the way.

In the first stage of the project, using their iPads, the student citizen scientists learned that habitat loss is the single greatest threat to native

Researching Bird House Design

Researching Bird House Design

bird populations. They learned that they could offset this threat by creating habitats in their backyard and decided to make the Kurn Hattin campus their laboratory.

Their research led them to many resources on the Internet, but the most helpful information came from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a unit of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York which studies birds and other wildlife (the Lab’s BirdSleuth curriculum is designed to help elementary and middle-school students discover science through bird projects) and from the National Audubon Society.

untitledAsking the question, “What do birds want in a house?” the Tech Wizards identified birdhouse designs that they would like to build. Incorporated into their designs were location (5 feet or more off the ground, atop a pole or post, or attached  to a tree trunk, with an east-facing  entry away from prevailing winds), creating a cozy space (5 by 5 inches at the bottom is an ideal dimension for most species with an overall height of 10 to 12 inches), the right-size entry (different size holes attract different kinds of birds), a slanted roof (allowing rainwater to run off easily), and sources of desired nesting materials (most songbirds will reuse the house the following year but won’t reuse a nest which means they need new stuff each spring such as moss, twigs, feathers, pine needles, shredded bark, soft grasses, yarn scraps, small pieces of fabric and hair (human, dog or horse).

Mr. Fontaine Shows How

Mr. Fontaine Shows How

After designing came the building. Then they measured and projected to scale, put together plans, and built paper birdhouses. When they had their new design skills down, they planned and made wooden birdhouses. As an experiment, some were painted with non-toxic colors to see if they attracted birds differently. Once their wooden birdhouses were hung in the trees on campus, the children began repairing the School farm’s existing birdhouses.

The next project planned for these Tech Wizards will be an extension of this activity. Taking the skills that they have learned building birdhouses to the next level, they will become architects, engineers, builders, and financial planners as they build model homes. Each Tech Wizard will be given a budgeted amount of money, and will use their drafting skills to plan and build a miniature home to scale. They will keep a ledger with a checkbook, and write checks for materials and contractors in the process of planning and building their home. In this way, the Tech Wizard’s experiential-learning approach to science engages the youth in activities that allow them to experiment, reflect upon what happened, and apply what they have learned. As their homes are being constructed, they will keep journals, reflecting on their successes and likely “do-overs” and discuss how their efforts relate to their everyday lives and are instrumental in achieving the goals they have made for themselves.

Tech Wizards Generate Potential Solutions to Help Farmers

Posted: October 10th, 2014 by rgarrita

Part of Tech Wizards programming includes doing a community service project, which we integrated into OMK’s July 2014 camp. 4-H Educator Rose Garritano connected us to another UVM Extension employee, Ben Waterman, who has been working on a solar powered water pump. This paired well with our work building solar powered cars! Ben,  in his role with UVM’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture, is  working out kinks in a solar powered water pump project that irrigates  water dependent rice paddies  of new American farmers from Nepal.


The task of the Tech Wizard campers was to create a new and or modified version of Ben Waterman’s current water pump design. Youth were told that their design needed to follow these guidelines: be able to rise and fall with the river’s water level, withstand various weather occurrences, house a stable place for the water pump, as well as be  designed  to not get stuck in the mud of the river bank.

Students broke up into groups of 3 or 4 to come up with a design and construct their vision. Materials available to groups were: large and small popsicle sticks, aluminum soda cans, 12 oz soda bottles, hot glue, and duct tape.

OMK Tech Wizard campers spent one day designing and constructing their water pump flotation devices. Once youth had a design plan, they dove right into their first stage of construction was complete. After a good stopping point in their construction we circled up as a group for design presentations- an opportunity for others to give feedback. This provided groups with the opportunity to brainstorm further construction and learn others suggestions for their designs. It was a great opportunity for youth to be reminded of challenge guidelines and to think a bit more about their design.

After youth finished their second phase of construction, we came back together as a group to practice presenting designs in preparation for presentations to Ben Waterman. Ben came to  our camp and listened to design explanations.  He told the  kids about his water pump’s current design, its successes and failures, as well as a bit about the farmers and their crops. The group of Nepali farmers he works with are trying to figure out how to successfully grow rice in Vermont. Part of this challenge is keeping the rice paddies fully stocked with water- which is where the solar powered water pump comes in. Things in the design that they are still working on are keeping the water pump low maintenance and a design that won’t get stuck in the riverbanks.


After youth presented their designs to Ben Waterman he gave each group feedback about their design and  told them how their design could be applied to the  water pump project down at the farm. It was really exciting to see kid’s hard work contributing their innovative ideas to a relevant local agriculture project in their own community!


Experimenting with Paper Bridges

Posted: June 20th, 2014 by Stephanie Albaugh

Examples of paper bridges

Examples of paper bridges

Holding an afterschool program at Winooski Elementary school exceeded my expectations. With the combination of an awesome group of students and wonderful mentors, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend my Tuesday afternoons with. My name is Alyson Wall and I was the lead facilitator for this program, and also acted as a mentor for the thirteen third, fourth, and fifth graders as we learned about bridge construction by using plain white paper.

Each week, I presented the students with a challenge related to the construction of paper bridges. We began by creating columns, beams, and bridge decks ranging in thickness, diameter and height, exploring what shapes and sizes could hold the most weight. We also experimented with weight distribution and the importance behind the placement of our materials. After completing a challenge, we came together as a group to review everyone’s design and to test the amount of weight each bridge could hold, giving students an opportunity to learn from other’s designs.

Columns can support a lot of weight!

Columns can support a lot of weight!

In week four’s challenge, students focused specifically on columns. We experimented with numerous shapes, heights and widths, by rolling pieces of paper into various-sized tubes. This challenge was particularly exciting because the columns were able to hold a surprising amount of weight (one group even had a couple of full gallon milk jugs supported by their column structures). As we went through each group’s design other students would clap and cheer as a group tested the strength of their bridge. Members of the teams were so supportive of each other, which created a really wonderful environment.

In addition to making our own bridges, a portion of each session was spent looking at bridges found throughout the world. We looked at natural bridges like the one found here and man-made bridges. One of the weekly bridges that we viewed was a conceptual bridge that would theoretically span across the river Seine in Paris. Pedestrians would bounce their way across three trampolines to get from one side to another. It was great to hear student’s creative ideas sparked by this nontraditional bridge combined with the bridge building knowledge they had gained.

Conceptual Bridge

Conceptual Bridge

Mentors played a big role in the success of our afterschool program. We each brought our own strengths to the table. Two of our mentors, Kathy and Manny, are employees of Winooski Elementary and were great familiar faces for kids to work with. Mentor Jeff Rogers, who is an engineer at the UTC Aerospace facility, brought his engineering expertise each week. As the weeks went by, students shared more about their life and became more interested in the lives of the mentors. It was really exciting to see these relationships grow.

Students made great progress throughout the seven-week program and became more aware of engineering concepts for bridge construction. I could even see some of them building their own bridge one day. Maybe something like this:cool_bridge

For some fun paper bridge activities to do with youth, try starting with this one from PBS Online’s Educators’ Guide:

Activity 1: Can you build a bridge that holds 100 pennies, using 1 sheet of paper and up to 5 paper clips?

Have fun and good luck!

Becoming Citizen Scientists

Posted: April 10th, 2014 by dfajans

At the Kurn Hattin School, sawdust is flying everywhere. In February, this VT 4-H programming partner received 10 Apple iPads to start the 3rd year of their participation in UVM Extension’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) funded grant, 4-H Tech Wizards.

In an earlier Tech Wizards experience, the students constructed models of bridges using materials that simulated those in a real bridge. TheP1050687 students and their mentors were eager to use the new iPads to move from a simulated structural engineering scenario to something more “real”.

After a 2 week, iPad-assisted study using Peterson’s Backyard Birds app to learn characteristics, visual identification and recognition of the calls of different birds, students further researched the Internet and wrote reports on birds of their choosing and successfully identified birds in outside, field study. They discovered that some birds, such as the blue bird or chickadee, nest in tree cavities and as forests are cleared for human developments, habitats such as mature forests with decayed trees are destroyed, reducing essential habitat for cavity-nesting birds.

After learning about bird habitats and shelters, the students wanted to construct nest box birdhousesto help increase the populations of many of these cavity-nesting birds such as bluebirds, finch, robins and chickadees.

Their engineering goal was to solve a problem with the use of technology – ranging from complex to simple – with iPads, hand saws, hammers, tape measures, glue and nails.

P1050685Their Tech Wizard mentors introduced and discussed the difference of the tools and materials and instructed in safety precautions and tool skills and the students evaluated each other’s work using rubrics to assess hand saw technique and their finished bird houses.

Working in pairs, students created nesting boxes that will be donated and placed near the fields and ponds of the community Westminster, successfully demonstrating that students learned the 4-H lifeP1050526 skills of decision making; communication, useful/marketable skills and community service while using the 4-H science skills of stating a problem, designing a solution, implementing a solution, measuring, and use of tools.

If you think this sounds like fun, decide which species you would like to attract and learn how. From there, you could become a citizen scientist and have fun while doing good. Participants in Nest Watch, a citizen-science project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, monitor bird nests in their nest boxes (or any other place), gathering information such as the number of eggs or young in the nest. Good luck and let us know how many bird houses you build or how many nests you find as a citizen scientist.

Takng Better Pictures

Posted: December 12th, 2013 by wizards

With the technology of digital cameras many youth and adults now enjoy photography as a hobby.  Many of today’s youth do not remember taking pictures with film and then having rolls of undeveloped film in a kitchen drawer or sending a roll in to have it developed only to realize then you paid for the photos that many were blurred or out of focus.  Digital photography allows the photographer the opportunity to review the photo instantly.  Even with the technology of semi-auto focus cameras not all photos are magazine quality.  Youth who participate in the Tech Wizards program offered at the Fairfield Public Library have learned some ways to increase the quality of the photos they take.   A few simple steps and you too can improve your photography skills.Tech Wizard participants at the Fairfield Library prepare for a photography scavenger hunt.

1.  Learn the parts of your camera and how it works.  Be able to set the time and date if you want that to appear on your photos.  Simple point and shoot cameras may have only a few very simple settings while more advanced models may have many settings. Get to know your camera.

2.  Once you are familiar with your camera practice, take a lot of photos.  Decide what you want your focal point to be of the photo.  Youth learned that very simple things could be creative focal points. 2.  Take a good look at the area that will be to the side and in the background – is itcluttered

are there overhanging wires, can you improve the background by moving to one side and changing the angel of the shot.

3.  Lighting  –  experiment with lighting and the time of day you try to take your photos – many professional photographers who work outside prefer early morning or early evening light for the best color.IMG_0342

Students experimented with different types of photography, landscape, portrait, self-portrait, action, and pets.  The youth brainstormed career opportunities that include photography.  Some of the ideas that they shared included, free-lance photographer, news photographer, portrait photographer, and  wedding or event photographer.  The youth enjoyed sharing their photos with the group, families, and with the public by putting them on a digital photo frame that was on display at the library. Some of the youth also exhibited at the local fair.  We also downloaded a free version of Picas, from http://picasa.google.com/    that allowed the youth to experiment with digital photography enhancement and manipulation.  This technology allowed to youth to be creative while exploring the various options.


If you would like to learn more about 4-H photography and the photography curriculum go to:  http://www.4-h.org/resource-library/curriculum/4-h-photography/mastering-photography/ to check out the available curriculum or contact your local 4-H Educator to explore resources available for youth interested in photography.

4-H Tech Wizards Map Invasives

Posted: November 11th, 2013 by wizards

100_1431Some species of plants pose a serious threat to ecosystems across the globe. Sometimes, when a nonnative species is introduced to a new area, it is able to grow in the unfamiliar environment. When this happens, it often begins to reproduce rapidly, vivaciously consuming tremendous amounts of resources, as they have no natural predators in this new habitat, and thus, are able to run unchecked. This in turn reduces the amount of native species, completely throwing off the local ecosystems and food chains.100_1559


Kurn Hattin School (Westminster) 4-H Tech Wizards’ middle school ability groups “Vermont” and “New Hampshire“ and their Tech Wizard mentors / teachers Tom Fontaine & Lisa Frost learned about, found and mapped the invasive plants on their campus. From Sept 23 to Nov 1, 2013, they learned about invasive plants and explored the campus to find them and record their locations using GPS units. There were a surprising number of invasive species on the Kurn Hattin campus, easily identified as large clumps of a single species of plant. After finding Asiatic bittersweet, Buckthorn, Bush honeysuckle, Burning bush, and Japanese knotweed to name a few, they returned to the science lab, to analyze where and why invasives were dominant. To see what they found, look at  — http://www.invasive.org/— National Invasive Species Council


To learn the geospatial skills that they needed, the students learned about latitude and longitude on a globe & on various flat maps and used aerial pictures of their school campus to determine appropriate orientation. Outside, they learned how to mark waypoints and how to use other features of their GPS units, such as lat/long/elevation. Back in the science lab, before creating their digital maps, they learned to view maps as layers of information (data) to introduce the idea of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and how to use maps & mapping tools to gather & process information from a spatial perspective. With the help of Google Earth, they placed their waypoints onto their digital maps. Some of the websites that they used were  www.terraserver.microsoft.com – Aerial photographs and http://www.google.com/earth/explore/products/ — Google Earth download


Have you spotted invasive plant species in your backyard? If so, tell us about them in the comments below!

Learning About Flight…Together!

Posted: October 21st, 2013 by Stephanie Albaugh

Last April, one of our amazing mentors (who also happened to be an AmeriCorps member serving with Operation: Military Kids Vermont for the year) put together our “Taking Flight” vacation camp in South Burlington, Vermont. Over the course of one week, 14 campers and five mentors worked together to learn about the science of flight by observing birds, flying kites, and launching rockets (among many other things!). Although I personally wasn’t able to attend the camp, I couldn’t help but get excited by all the activities that were planned.

taking_flight_volunteer_photoOne of the great things about the Tech Wizards program, and most 4-H youth development programs for that matter, is the hands-on nature of our activities. We’re lucky to have equipment like bottle rocket launchers, model rocket kits, and hot air balloon simulators. So instead of just sitting back to watch, our participants can do. They can work together to fold pieces of paper into airplanes. They can cut out and glue pieces of tissue paper together to construct mini hot air balloons. And they can use a bike pump to push air into upside-down soda bottles before sending them soaring through the air.

Here are three relatively simple activities our campers did during camp last spring. I’ll encourage you to try each of these activities with someone! One of the best things I’ve learned from the Tech Wizards program so far is the value of working together. Whether you’re two friends, a parent and child, or a mentee with your mentor, I’m sure you’ll have fun working as a team.

birdfeeder_photoMake a birdfeeder – what better place to observe birds in flight than right out your window! Here’s a link to the type of birdfeeder we made during camp.

After your birdfeeder is complete and hanging from a branch outside, take some time to stop and watch when you see birds dropping by to eat. What do they do when they land? When they take off? What do you think keeps the birds in the air? Do birds remind you of any other flying objects? If so, what?

Pop Can Hero Engine – this activity is straight from NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)! It might make you a little dizzy, but feel free to check out the video our campers took when they tried this one! This activity helped us to learn about Newton’s Third Law of Motion. Do you know it? Learn a little more about it by watching this video (from NASA!).

Model Rockets – one of the final projects at camp was building and launching model rockets. This activity requires a little more planning and prep work than the other two, but I think you’ll find the end result pretty rewarding. For our rockets, we used the Alpha III Launch Set, but I’m sure most beginner rocket sets would do!

rocketsWhen you’re ready to launch, be sure to think about the forces at work. What causes your rocket to fly into the air? What happens when it goes as far as it can go? Why did that happen? How do you think this rocket is similar to real rockets? How is it different?

Whether you decide to try these activities or not, maybe you have some of your own flight-related projects you’ve tried. Or you’d like to try! If so, tell us about them in the comments below! Maybe we’ll use them in our next Tech Wizards camp!

Be a Mentor!

Posted: May 30th, 2013 by wizards

If you have ever been in a mentoring situation you know just how important the relationship is between a mentor and young person (mentee).  The relationship grows and develops over time as each learns about trust, respect as they nurture that developing connectedness with each other.   Quality mentor/mentee relationships just don’t happen.  They require an investment of time and effort to build and maintain.


Mentors are essential to our involvement with 4-H National Mentoring Program through replicating Tech Wizards.  Often mentors and mentees learn about the about the science and technology associated with each topic, whether robotics, flight, digital photography, forestry or global positioning systems.  Occasionally the mentor has expertise in these topics and can offer a unique perspective as a professional in the field.   Either way, it is when the mentor and mentee share the experiential learning of our program delivery model that provides the medium for the relationship to grow.

Mentors take the commitment of working with our Tech Wizard youth seriously and are regularly present with their attention focused on enhancing the learning experience through dialogue and joint problem solving.  They work together to master the Science Inquiry Process:

  • Forming questions that can be answered by collecting data;
  • Designing a scientific procedure to answer the questions;
  • Communicating their scientific procedure to other:                                                                                         
  • Recording their data accurately;
  • Creating a graph/display to share data and observations with others;
  • Analyzing results of their scientific investigation; and
  • Applying the results of their investigation to answer the questions they developed.

Mentors assume their role as coach or guide, leaving the roles of parent, teacher and guardian to others.  Youth often find mentors in their coaches for school or community recreation athletics.  Our Tech Wizards program offers another type of mentoring for youth beyond the sports arena.  Knowledge and skill building remains the focus but with Tech Wizards Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) are the subjects for learning.

Are you willing to share yourself as a mentor?  Offer to be a coach for STEM exploration with a youth and foster the thrill of science inquiry as you build a mentoring relationship.

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