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Millions of young people across the nation – including nearly 2,000 in Alabama – became scientists during the 5th annual 4-H National Youth Science Day (NYSD) initiative. While many of the activities nationally happened Oct. 10, Alabama 4-H planned activities throughout October.DSC_0012

The goal of NYSD was seek to spark an early youth interest in science and future science careers, and to reclaim the nation's position of leadership in scientific exploration. As part of 4-H NYSD, youth participated in the 4-H Eco-Bot Challenge: the 2012 National Science Experiment.

than 120 fifth and sixth graders at W.O. Lance Elementary School in Lanett participated in the challenge and hundreds of other youth in Barbour, Bullock, Chambers, Lee, Tallapoosa and Russell counties are participating throughout the month.

The entire seventh grade–totaling nearly 300 youth–from Alexander City Middle School also participated, learning team skills in addition to science, math and technology.

Lanett City School Superintendent Phillip Johnson said the Eco-Bot challenge matches the academic standards set for fifth and sixth grade students in his system. “We want to emphasize hands-on learning this year and this program is perfect.”DSC_0027

W.O. Lance Principal Jamie Heard agreed. “I like what I’m seeing. Kids are involved, they are interested and they are having fun–they are learning without realizing it and this program is bringing science and technology to life.”

“We want students to have real-life examples of learning by what they are doing and our primary emphasis is how to better include STEM (science, technology, engineering and math),” Johnson said. “From what I saw today, 4-H does that.”

Alexander City seventh grade science teacher Christie Broom said this experiment, like others in 4-H, allows teachers to teach out of the box and have more opportunities to teach. “Especially in this experiment, I liked how they included the writing portion because the students had to think and then write about their experience.

“The simulated oil spill was a timely experience for our youth to do considering the 2011 spill in the Gulf of Mexico,” Broom said. “Everyone one of our youth were aware of the effects of a disaster like that.”

Employees from the Auburn-based Donaldson Corporation volunteered at bothDSC_0006 schools with Holt, offering to help youth with the experiment. The company’s foundation helped to sponsor the national experience and asked its employees to volunteer in communities where they live and work. The Auburn plant employs about 240 workers.

Donaldson employee Joe Gortney said he was glad to help youth participate in a program he enjoyed as a youth in Clay County. “I remember as a kid doing a lot of 4-H projects, I built a shoe box with my dad that won a prize,” he said. “Those are good memories and it’s good to come help youth have some of those same experiences.”

Donaldson Human Resources Director Jay Harris echoed Gortney’s sentiments. “I havDSC_0061e three kids myself and it is good to see youth excited about doing something hands-on that gets them outside the normal classroom environment. Helping children like this is pretty important.”

This year's experiment introduced youth to robotic engineering concepts as they program a robot to clean up a simulated environmental spill, said Alabama 4-H Science specialist Tony Cook. “The 4-H Eco-Bot Challenge demonstrated that by utilizing engineering principles, youth can have a positive impact on communities and ecosystems.”

4-H'ers assembled their own Eco-Bot–using a toothbrush head, a watch battery, a tiny motor, foam mounting tape and red and black wires. Once they built their Eco-Bot, they then figured out the best way to use it to clean up the oil spill, for this experiment, rice.

“The youth tested how well the Eco-Bot cleaned up the spill, and how their design and various surfaces created different interactions,” Cook added. “They had the challenge of determining the most effective clean-up solution for the simulated spill.”

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