Elementary and middle school students can take advantage of an award-winning hi-tech way to learn about forestry using the 4-H Virtual Forest from Virginia Cooperative Extension.

The 4-H Virtual Forest is an interactive, web-based learning experience that introduces forest management concepts to youth ages 9 through 13. The 4-H Virtual Forest has seven learning modules: land-use management, renewable resources, photosynthesis, tree identification, succession, tree measurements, and timber harvesting. The modules complement 4-H project work in forestry and are consistent with the Standards of Learning for Virginia public schools. The 4-H Virtual Forest also includes user’s guides, student activity sheets, teacher answer sheets, additional resources, and SOL links for each module.

The 4-H Virtual Forest can be found at http://www.ext.vt.edu/resources/4h/virtualforest/.

“It is important for our youngsters to learn about forestry,” said Robert Ray Meadows, director of the state's 4-H program. Forests cover about 16 million acres or about 60 percent of Virginia. "The forest products industry ranks first in the state in numbers of manufacturing jobs, salaries, and wages. Virginia’s forests protect water quality, provide recreation opportunities, and provide habitat for a diversity of wildlife species.”

“The 4-H Virtual Forest is a way to introduce youth to science-based forest management activities,” said Dan Goerlich, Virginia Cooperative Extension agriculture and natural resources agent at Halifax County who led the project to create the 4-H Virtual Forest.

Christie Barker Lewis, who teaches fourth grade at Sinai Elementary School in Halifax County said, “I love the 4-H Virtual Forest…I plan to use it regularly with my entire class using the LCD projector. It is great.”

"The 4-H Virtual Forest stimulates students while addressing natural resources related SOLs,” Goerlich said. “Natural resource professionals appreciate that the project deals with common misconceptions.”

The 4-H Virtual Forest received the Virginia Cooperative Extension Natural Resources Flagship award from Virginia’s Natural Resources program leadership team and an Outstanding Team award from the Alpha Gamma chapter of Epsilon Sigma Phi, the Extension honor organization as well as awards from the Association of Natural Resources Extension Professionals and the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents

“4-H youth development agents are using the website in community clubs and in-school programs across the state,” said Goerlich, who added that the website also is being used by environmental educators and teachers including some from other states.

All the 4-H youth development agents have CDs of the website. Each Extension district office has sets of 25 CDs that are available to loan to teachers for use in a computer lab setting.

Extension is the connection to Virginia’s land-grant universities, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University. It helps people improve their lives by providing research-based educational resources through a network of on-campus and local Extension offices and educators. 4-H is the youth development program of Virginia Cooperative Extension.