Modern 4-H Projects Increasingly Using Technology

Logan Olson, 8, using a virtual reality headset to see the digital gallery of his brother Casey's 4-H photos. (Becca Costello, NET News)
A screenshot of the virtual reality gallery of Casey Olson's photos. The gallery can be viewed on a computer or phone without a VR headset.
A screenshot of the virtual reality gallery of Casey Olson's photos. The gallery can be viewed on a computer or phone without a VR headset.
Photography 4-H projects on display at the 2019 Nebraska State Fair. (Becca Costello, NET News)
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August 27, 2019 - 1:37pm

About 3,500 Nebraska kids and teens will showcase their 4-H projects at the State Fair this year, and some of the projects this year might surprise you.


On opening weekend of the Nebraska State Fair, 12-year-old Casey Olson walked through a gallery of photos he took for his 4-H project this year.

"Oh the apple one’s pretty cool," he said. "The colors look really good."

Each photo takes up an entire wall. This huge, impressive gallery is right in the middle of the 4-H exhibit hall — and it’s small enough to fit in your hand.

"It's kinda weird, like it’s kinda laggy," Casey said. 

Casey was wearing a virtual reality headset, walking through a digitally-created room displaying his photos. It’s a completely new experience for the State Fair this year.

As 8-year-old Logan Olson found out, it can be a little disorienting.

"This is so weird," Logan said, laughing and bumping into chairs and tables. "This is so weird!" 

A screenshot of Casey Olson's virtual reality gallery as seen on a cellphone.

The project is part of a trend incorporating STEM projects into 4-H – that’s science, technology, engineering and math.

"I get to do some of the coolest stuff in engaging youth, especially in the STEM fields," said Dagen Valentine, state 4-H innovation and entrepreneurship educator.

Think robotics, 3-D modeling and printing, virtual reality, augmented reality — modern 4-H does it all.

4-H has been around for more than a century, but state program administrator Kathleen Lowell says the goals have stayed the same.

"What we're really about in 4-H and have always been about is helping young people grow into capable caring adults, and be productive citizens," Lowell said. "So certainly, while the content areas might have changed over the years, that core philosophy of helping the next generation of adults is what we're about."

Casey Olson, left, shows his mom Melanie how to open the virtual reality photo gallery. (Becca Costello, NET News)

Casey’s mom Melanie Olson has been part of that transformation. 

"The kids are third generation 4-Hers. I grew up doing 4-H as well as my parents," Olson said. "I was excited when they could get involved. They show sheep and show cattle and they also do the static exhibits." 

While there are a lot of newer 4-H projects, like robotics and rocketry, even the traditional projects now include the latest technology. 

"Photography’s been a part of 4-H projects for years and years, but just taking a look at it in a different way, still learning many of the same skills when it comes to the art of photography but actually how you view it, how you share it, those pieces have changed," Olson said. 

The static exhibit hall houses 4-H projects from across the state. (Becca Costello, NET News)

4-H rocket projects on display at the 2019 Nebraska State Fair. (Becca Costello, NET News)

An electricity 4-H project on display at the 2019 Nebraska State Fair. (Becca Costello, NET News)

4-H has to keep up with the world as it changes, and it changes very quickly. Agriculture projects are especially tech-heavy these days.  

"Ag is stem," Valentine said. "Like it's not two sides of a coin, it is one at the same." 

Valentine says future farmers need coding to manage machinery that is increasingly run by computers. 

"You need to have coding skills, essentially, to hack, not in a pejorative, but to hack your, your combine," he said. "So that way you're, you're getting what you need out of this piece of machinery."

And 4-H isn’t just in rural areas – that’s a common misconception. In fact, Nebraska 4-H is 49% urban – and kids across the state are learning non-agricultural skills.

"So we want to engage youth in these things that are emerging in career fields, but then also what we don't even know exists yet," Valentine said. "Some of our 5 to 8-year-olds, in 10 years, who knows where our world will be. So we want to prepare them." 

The 4-H exhibit hall at the 2019 State Fair is packed with projects – horticulture, baking, sewing, scrapbooking, you name it.

Right in the middle of it all, fair visitors can be transported to a completely different place. 

"This one of the tree is one I took in Colorado," Casey said, "walking" through the gallery. "I like it, it’s an interesting composition the split and then the canopy up there."

Casey’s been a photographer for a few years now, but this virtual reality room is a whole new way to experience his artwork.  

"Like even though it is small, like the size of your phone, it looks like it’s the size of your world," he said. 

The VR gallery is a 4-H pilot project. Valentine says next year they hope to teach kids how to make these projects themselves.

Nebraska 4-H will host another demonstration of the virtual reality photo gallery on Saturday, August 30 from 4 to 6 p.m. in the 4-H exhibit hall.

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