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4-H Virtual Forest

Despite the importance of forests, forest management is not well-understood by much of the public, including youth. In addition, foresters and forest landowners have continually expressed concern that “what is taught in the schools” about forestry and natural resources is often based on emotion and misinformation rather than science. With this in mind, a team of foresters and technology experts from Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia Tech developed the 4-H Virtual Forest, an interactive, web-based learning experience that introduces forest management concepts to youth aged 9 through 13. Seven learning modules cover:

  • human impact on the ecosystem (sprawl),
  • renewable resources,
  • photosynthesis,
  • tree identification,
  • old-field succession,
  • tree measurements,
  • and timber harvesting.

The 4-H Virtual Forest Web site includes user's guides, student activity sheets, teacher answer sheets, additional resources, and the Virginia “Standards of Learning” addressed by each module. In addition, student and adult evaluations can be completed and submitted on-line. Natural resource professionals are stating their appreciation that the project deals with common misconceptions, like the one that harvesting trees will make the earth run out of oxygen.

One reason that Virginia Cooperative Extension took the lead in developing this resource is that Virginia has 16 million acres of forestland—about 60% of the state—with over 15.4 million acres classified as commercial forest. Forest landowners received over $345 million in stumpage for their standing timber in 1999. The harvesting, processing, and marketing of forest products contributes over 25.4 billion annually to Virginia’s economy and accounts for over 248,000 jobs. As a group, the forest products industry ranks first in manufacturing jobs, and first in salaries and wages. In 1999, timber ranked first in the state in market value among all crops, ahead of poultry and eggs, field crops, meat animals, and so on. Every dollar paid to Virginia’s landowners for standing timber provides $35.40 worth of total value-added to Virginia’s economy. In addition to their economic importance, Virginia’s forests protect water quality, provide recreation opportunities, and provide habitat for a diversity of wildlife species.

Completed in July 2004, 4-H Virtual Forest has been widely marketed.

  • Each 4-H agent received a letter, CD, and enough bookmarks to provide one for every third through seventh grade teacher in their county.
  • Sets of 25 CD’s have been sent to each district office, where they will be loaned to agents interested in working with teachers in a computer lab setting, thereby circumventing the initial download time associated with modules on the website.
  • An e-mail announcement was sent to 2,000 members of the group Building a Presence for Science.
  • The Virginia Association of Science Teachers agreed to run information on 4-H Virtual Forest in their newsletter, which is distributed to 1,700 K-12 Science teachers.
  • Announcements were run in the Halifax Clover Chatter (distribution 730), Forestry For’um (distribution 640), and Virginia Forestry Association News and Notes (distribution 1,300).
  • And, word was also disseminated to 1,100 Extension professionals south-wide via the Southern Forestry Extension e-mail newsletter, and nationwide to ANREP professionals.

Although designed with Virginia’s youth in mind, 4-H Virtual Forest is receiving feedback from across the nation:

“…this is terrific stuff! I teach in the 4th grades and do a module on forests as part of VA Natural Resources in the fall and in the spring we do a unit on horticulture which includes photosynthesis. I’ll be incorporating the virtual forest site in both units!”

- Lynn Elizabeth Grosz, Extension Agent, 4-H Youth Development, Virginia Cooperative Extension

“…I do school programs about trees for kids. I am going to tell the kids I teach, about 2,000 a year, about this website. It will be a great way for them to learn more after my program ends. Thanks for putting this together.”

- James Nichnadowicz, 4-H Agent, Rutgers Cooperative Extension

“I took a look at your 4-H Virtual Forest, and I think it is also something that could be used for the Boy Scouts. Scouts have to learn how to estimate the height of trees, and much of what the site teaches could be applied to the forestry merit badge.”

- J.B. Friday, Extension Forester, University of Hawaii at Manoa

“I LOVED your new interactive 4-H program on the forests! The sounds and animated characters are sure to motivate kids; interactive format will keep them involved, inspired, and thinking; your suggestions for taking care of the environment are well done; information is presented in a clear and educational format; and I really enjoyed the obvious ‘kid input!’ Congratulations on a job well done!”

- Linda Manka, Education Ranger, Shenandoah National Park

“I opened the Urban Sprawl link this morning. I quickly downloaded it successfully and find it very useful in preparing lectures for this Saturday and next month. The first venue is an arboretum festival in Erie, PA, on September 11, where I will use the sprawl quiz at our exhibit. Although I intend to be present, the quiz will be there for teachers and the public who come to the booth. The (main) objective is to raise awareness among teachers that trees play an important role in the watershed and sustainable community issues. The second is to raise awareness that persons and resources are available for them to obtain PA environmental education credit and transfer learning without creating all teaching aids. The third is to promote 4H and Cooperative Extension as a resource. This exhibit will be used in conjunction with a scavenger hunt, where educators obtain answers for PA Act 48 credit. The festival and credit hunt have already been promoted through Erie Times promotional section, local radio, and direct mail to the Intermediate Unit and Erie city schools…My first impression is that I expect it to be very useful in raising talking points with the educators. The second audience is a combination of retirement home residents and high school student ambassadors in Meadville, PA. I expect 30 elderly and 10 student participants. The objectives are to raise awareness of tree benefits and urban sprawl issue, and to change attitudes about forested areas as being mere obstacles to placing recreation and homes I look forward to letting you know of the results.”

- Scott Sjola


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