4-H Youth Development Program
4-H Youth Development Program
4-H Youth Development Program
University of California
4-H Youth Development Program

4-H Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Initiative

4-H SET Initiative button
The California 4-H Youth Development Program responded to the National 4-H Science Mission Mandate by launching a statewide 4-H STEM Initiative (which was previously called the 4-H SET Initiative- Science, Engineering, and Technology).

CA 4-H STEM Timeline 2007-2015

These efforts aim to develop new and strengthen existing programmatic opportunities for California 4-H that align closely with the UC ANR Strategic Vision 2025.

The National 4-H Science Mission Mandate emphasizes the need to prepare youth with 21st century skills for the workforce in the areas of science, engineering, and technology.

The goals of the 4-H STEM Initiative are to:

  • improve youth science literacy through educational programming, grounded in youth development and educational practices as outlined in the UC 4-H Youth Development Program Framework, that uses high quality curricula and educators prepared by using research-based professional development strategies
  • support the advancement of the research-base of youth nonformal science education
  • support the implementation efforts through systematic approaches to the development of programs, professional preparation, curriculum and applied research, and fund development.


For Economic Prosperity and National Security
Scientific literacy positively impacts our nation’s economic prosperity and national security. American has a shortage of scientists and engineers to meet future demand.

For a Functioning Democracy
Young people in the United States are the future leaders and voting public who will help shape the state of public policy in the 21st century. In order to take on this role effectively, youth need scientific knowledge, skills, and opportunities to apply these in authentic participation to address important societal issues, including challenges around public health, water quality, agriculture, transportation, communication, and energy conservation.

As Preparation for Life
As the world grows ever more complex and reliant on science and technology, young people will need to be scientifically literate in preparation for the 21st century workforce and in order to be critical consumer of information (and the media).


Low Levels of Scientific Literacy in California and the U.S.

Unfortunately, scientific literacy in the U.S. is undesirably low: California ranks 49th in 8th grade science literacy and only 21% of seniors are considered proficient in science (NCES, 2011).

2012 Wild Side Session 2 023 edited


Youth Learning Outcomes

Anchor Points
The California 4-H STEM Initiative takes a focus-on-situations approach to science education with the recognition that science learning is contextualized; persons within a community have unique science knowledge bases; and that each person develops their own science learning trajectory influenced by their personal values and desires.

While the 4-H program advances a long term goal to increase the number and diversity of youth pursuing higher education and careers in science, engineering, and technology fields, it is not our intent to only prepare future scientists. 4-H science programs are designed to help youth see science as a powerful tool to make sense of and construct knowledge about the world; address and think about issues in their lives that involve science, engineering, and technology; and connect learning with real-world situations where youth can adopt and use new science methods or improved technology to solve problems.

Anchor Points of Scientific Literacy
Based on the UC ANR Strategic Vision 2025 and a focus-on-situations orientation, the expected learning goals for youth participation in 4-H science programming include four intertwined anchor points: science content; scientific reasoning skills; interest and attitude; and contribution through applied participation. These anchor points provide guideposts for curriculum and program development, teaching and evaluation, and are flexible enough for adaptation to local needs and situations. 


SET Checklist Header
The checklist is designed for use in the planning, development, and evaluation of new and existing 4-H science programs, curriculum materials, and professional development of staff and volunteers. 4-H STEM Checklist

Targeted outcomes include enhanced scientific literacy and improved indicators of positive youth development.
I. Youth Scientific Literacy
  • Content (based on the UC ANR Strategic Vision 2025).
  • Scientific reasoning skills.
  • Interest and attitudes towards science.
  • Contribution through applied participation.
II. Positive youth development
  • Competence: Positive view of one’s actions in specific areas, including healthy habits, life skills, love of learning, emotional competence, and social skills.
  • Confidence: An internal sense of overall positive self-worth, persistent resourcefulness and self-efficacy.
  • Connection: Positive bonds and relationships with people and institutions including faith-based communities.
  • Character: Respect for societal and cultural norms, possession of standards for correct behaviors, a sense of right and wrong (morality), and integrity.
  • Caring: A sense of sympathy and empathy for others.
  • Contribution: Giving to self, family and the institutions of a civil society.
Learning Environment
Learning experiences facilitated by trained, caring adult staff and volunteers who operate from a perspective that youth are partners in their own development.
A. Educational practices
B. Youth development practices - Book & Summary Flyer
C. Organization of learning experiences - Learning experiences are organized in a sequence (multiple contacts; extended duration) to reinforce one another; concepts build upon one another over time.
D. Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) - Learning experiences support NGSS cross-cutting concepts - NGSS website & Summary Flyer
E. Evaluation - Learning experiences include opportunities for evaluation.

Theoretical and Empirical Grounding

The following work provides a guiding framework, based on theoretical and empirical efforts, to 4-H STEM Education and to the 4-H STEM Initiative. 


The California 4-H Science Leadership Team conducted a statewide assessment to evaluate the needs of county-based 4-H programs related to the key areas of the 4-H Science Initiative: program development and design; professional development; curriculum; evaluation; partnerships; and fund development. Integrated findings from three qualitative data sources provided evidence of 4-H Science being institutionalized as a core focus; however, the assessment also revealed gaps that represent opportunities for future efforts and directions relative to science programming in California.

Worker, S.M., Schmitt-McQuitty, L., Ambrose, A., Brian, K., Schoenfelder, E., & Smith, M.H. (under review). Multiple-methods needs assessment of California 4-H science education programming. Journal of Extension.

This case study investigation assessed California 4-H professionals’ understanding of the essential components of effective 4-H Science programming as established by the National 4-H Science Mission Mandate. Using the 4-H Science Checklist as the basis for defining 4-H Science Readiness, academic and program staff were surveyed and interviewed to determine their understanding of what constitutes effective science programming in 4-H  and their capacity to deliver science professional development and programs. Results indicated a need to build staff capacity relative to 4-H Science in California and outcomes may have implications for 4-H professionals nationally. 

Schmitt-McQuitty, L., Carlos, R., & Smith, M.H. (2014). Learnings and recommendations to advance 4-H science readiness. Journal of Extension, 52(4). Article 4FEA1. Available at http://www.joe.org/joe/2014august/a1.php 


Definition of Scientific Literacy

Scientific literacy is an important educational and societal goal. Measuring scientific literacy, however, has been problematic because there is no consensus regarding the meaning of scientific literacy. Most definitions focus on the content and processes of major science disciplines, ignoring social factors and citizens’ needs. The authors developed a definition of scientific literacy for the California 4-H Program from the citizen's perspective, concentrating on real-world science-related situations. The definition includes four anchor points: science content; scientific reasoning skills; interest in and attitudes toward science; and contribution through applied participation. The definition provides the California 4-H Science, Engineering, and Technology Initiative with a framework for future science curriculum and program development and implementation, educator professional development, and evaluation.

Smith, M.H., Worker, S.M., Ambrose, A.P., Schmitt-McQuitty, L. (2015). Scientific literacy: California 4-H defines it from citizens' perspective. California Agriculture, 69(2), 92-97. Available at http://californiaagriculture.ucanr.edu/landingpage.cfm?article=ca.v069n02p92 

Definition of Curriculum

Effective curricula are considered to be the cornerstone of successful programming in Cooperative Extension. However, there is no universal operationalized definition of curriculum. Additionally, the development of curricula requires a systematic process that takes into account numerous factors. This paper provides a definition of curriculum by describing the component parts, discussing the organization of those elements, and recommending theoretical frameworks that complement the learn-by-doing approach utilized in Cooperative Extension. The paper also describes strategies to help guide curriculum development, adaptation, and evaluation.

Smith, M.H., Worker, S.M., Meehan, C.L., Schmitt-McQuitty, L., Ambrose, A., Brian, K., & Schoenfelder, E. (under review). Defining and developing curricula in the context of Cooperative Extension: Theoretical perspectives and practical considerations. Journal of Extension.


State of Professional Development Across the U.S.: Effective professional development aids educators in improving their pedagogical understanding and, thus, their practices when facilitating learning experiences. The purpose of this study was to explore professional development approaches in 4-H nationally, specifically looking at the characteristics of professional development efforts for 4-H staff and volunteers. A mixed methods approach was utilized involving surveys and interviews. Survey respondents reported that most professional development efforts are episodic, expert-led, and group-based (e.g., trainings; conferences); the least common approaches were ongoing, learner-centered, group-based professional development (e.g., communities of practice). Interviews provided more insight into challenges faced in offering professional development to 4-H staff and volunteers.

Smith, M.H., Meehan, C., Lewis, K., Worker, S.M., Schmitt-McQuitty, L., Schoenfelder, E., & Brian, K. (in progress). Study of 4-H professional development approaches across the U.S. Journal of Extension.

Communities of Practice: Currently, most 4-H volunteers who lead science projects and activities with youth participate in professional development opportunities involving episodic workshops that are considered largely ineffective with regard to fostering meaningful change in educators’ knowledge and skills. This paper outlines new professional development models that involve communities of practice (CoPs), where groups of educators work toward shared learning goals through authentic work. Professional development models that utilize CoPs represent potential strategies to help meet the professional development needs of 4-H volunteers who implement science programming with youth.

Smith, M.H., & Schmitt-McQuitty, L. (2013). More effective professional development can help 4-H volunteers address need for youth scientific literacy. California Agriculture, 67(1), 54-61. http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/repositoryfiles/ca6701p47-99930.pdf

Lesson Study: This article provides empirical evidence that lesson study, a constructivist-based professional development model, is one potential strategy to help improve 4-H educator’s abilities. A sequential explanatory mixed-methods design was used to investigate the influence of lesson study on 4-H volunteers’ science content and pedagogical knowledge. Survey data revealed improved understanding and use of subject matter knowledge among participants. Focus group interview data elaborated on participants’ understanding and use of inquiry processes.

Smith, M. (2013). Findings show lesson study can be an effective model for professional development of 4-H volunteers. California Agriculture, 67(1), 54-61. http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/repositoryfiles/ca6701p54-99932.pdf

4-H STEM Advisory Committee

The 4-H STEM Education Advisory Committee is comprised of a diverse group of members that builds upon an established research base to guide the 4-H STEM Initiative including the development and implementation of 4-H STEM programming, identification and provision of resources for county-based STEM education and professional development, and building organizational commitment and capacity for improving youth scientific literacy.

Applications are due by May 31, 2016 at: Advisory Committees

Photo of Andrea Ambrose Andrea Ambrose
Title: Acting Director, Office of Development Services
Unit: Development Services
Phone: (530) 750-1346
Email: apambrose@ucanr.edu


Photo of Kelley Brian Kelley Brian
Title: Youth, Families and Communities Advisor
Specialty: Program and curriculum development; Garden-enhanced nutrition education; Experiential learning
Unit: Placer-Nevada Counties
Phone: 530-889-7385
Email: kmbrian@ucanr.edu


Photo of Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty
Title: County Director San Benito County & 4-H Youth Development Advisor
Specialty: Youth Science Literacy
County: San Benito County
Phone: 831-637-5346 x 12
Email: lschmittmcquitty@ucanr.edu


Photo of Emily Schoenfelder Emily Schoenfelder
Title: 4-H Youth Development Advisor
Unit: Sutter-Yuba Counties
Phone: (530) 458-0577
Email: easchoenfelder@ucanr.edu


Photo of Martin H Smith Martin H Smith
Title: Specialist in Cooperative Extension, Youth Scientific Literacy
Specialty: Youth science education; scientific literacy; curriculum development; educator professional development; inquiry-based learning; experiential learning
Unit: Veterinary Medicine Extension
Phone: (530) 752-6894
Email: mhsmith@ucdavis.edu

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