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The science of chocolate
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I was shocked to hear myself say, "I only paid $3.95 for high grade gas," this week. Only?

A few years ago, the phrase "alternative fuel research" would have meant nothing to most fifth graders.

This summer, though, I heard 10- and 11-year-old 4-H'ers discussing ethanol with real interest.

While the topic is on the news constantly, I didn't expect to hear Cloverleaf 4-H'ers excited about alternative fuels.

Perhaps they realize changes must happen before they begin to drive, but this curiosity to know more about a science topic pleasantly surprised me.

This summer, Newton 4-H'ers not only learned about algae as an alternative fuel, but they also learned about algae density, why insects have long wings and how food products are developed.

That may sound like summer school, but the faces I saw on the 4-H bus were a lot more excited than those waiting for the summer school bus.

National 4-H Council reported that only 5 percent of U.S. college graduates are earning science, engineering, or technology degrees - compared with 59 percent or better in China and Japan.

The Chronicle of Higher Education said the Business Roundtable and independent businesses are having little luck attracting students to these fields.

It appears that attracting students to science fields when they're 17 or 18 is not enough. We have to give students the science background they need at a much younger age and nurture a natural eagerness to learn and explore.

Teachers have their hands full in today's classrooms, just trying to manage behavior and cover all the material before standardized testing time.

Newton County 11th graders taking the Georgia High School Graduation Exam had the lowest pass rate on the science and social studies portions, matching the state trend, according to the Newton County Board of Education Web site,

Statewide, while more seventh graders are passing the science CRCT, 25 percent failed last year, as reported by the Georgia Department of Education.

Thankfully, I have the luxury of planning fun activities to supplement what youth learn in the classroom.

Learning about density by sticking a net into a huge vat of algae at the University of Georgia doesn't seem like learning.

When a professor of food science hands out chocolate to feel and taste the way chocolates are developed from the cocoa content to the packaging, it doesn't feel like a classroom experience.

Youth sprinting through Centennial Olympic Park with kites made from copy paper grasshoppers, thread and straws don't realize they're learning about air science.

Three hours deep into a cave, middle school 4-H'ers may think they're playing Indiana Jones as they slide down rock formations, but they're also learning about rock formations, water filtration, and animal adaptations.

At Rock Eagle, 4-H'ers discuss biotic and abiotic factors with a counselor while they net crawfish, insects, weeds and rocks out of a lake.

All summer, I heard science everywhere but saw not a single bored look or complaint.

No homework was assigned, yet I saw preteens and teens volunteering to collect leaves, inspect stream quality and discuss current events during their free time.

Science has been a part of 4-H since it started here in Covington with the Boys' Corn Club in 1904, but today we offer a variety of programs to match the interests of our youth.

Nationally, 4-H reaches more than 5 million youth with science, engineering and technology programs.

Over the next five years, 4-H will provide hands-on learning to an additional one million youth as they become proficient in science areas as part of the Science, Engineering and Technology (S.E.T.) program.

Here in Newton County, one way we're meeting that challenge is through a geocaching club.

Over the summer, middle and high school 4-H'ers used GPS units to find hidden log books and "treasures" hidden around Covington and the world.

After only one or two finds, teens were eager to head to the next location as we drove around the county using only longitude and latitude coordinates to find caches as small as a pill bottle.

While it is too soon to know what long-term impact this 4-H science fun will have on youth, I see in their excitement a real hope for tomorrow's doctors, researchers and engineers.

Terri Kimble is the Program Specialist with Newton County 4-H, serving youth ages 9-19. She can be reached at or (770) 784-2010.