Tool 10: Reflecting the Research Base

Just as there is no single source for determining the need for curriculum material, there is no single source that provides the research basis for curriculum development. There are many sources of research to be considered for MSUE curriculum, including research on positive human development, life skills development, specific content or subject areas, experiential learning and education in general. This tool provides some tips to help ensure that the learning materials you develop are supported by and connected to the research foundations for developmentally appropriate youth development and for the content and subject matter.

Connecting to Guiding Principles for Positive Youth Development

Michigan 4-H Youth Development is dedicated to creating environments and experiences for positive youth development that reflect seven guiding principles, which are grounded in youth development research:

  • Youth develop positive relationships with adults and peers. Youth develop sustained relationships with peers and adults that nurture their positive development.
  • Youth are physically and emotionally safe. Youth will learn more and participate more fully when they feel both physically and emotionally safe. A structured yet flexible environment encourages honesty, trust and respect among youth and adults.
  • Youth actively engage in their own development. Through a process of identity awareness and discovery, youth increase their personal competence and sense of well-being.
  • Youth actively participate in their own learning. Youth are considered participants rather than recipients in the learning process. Opportunities for youth to learn and develop take place in many different contexts and take into account a variety of learning styles.
  • Youth develop skills that help them succeed. Youth experience and learn from "hands-on" educational opportunities that help them develop the skills they need to be successful adults.
  • Youth recognize, understand and appreciate multiculturalism. Youth will respect differences among groups and individuals of diverse backgrounds. Youth will develop skills and competencies that help them foster social justice in their communities and their world.
  • Youth grow and contribute as citizens through service and leadership. Youth feel included and involved in their community. They have significant roles to play and important contributions to make.

Consider ways to specifically address these principles in your curriculum materials. If you’re creating material for 4-H volunteers, include the listing of these principles in the material and indicate ways in which your material helps support them. If you’re creating materials for young people, make sure that the learning experiences are designed to support these principles. More information is currently being developed on characteristics or indicators that will help ensure that these principles are present in youth learning environments or experiences.

Connecting to Life Skills Models and Research

Hendricks (1996) defines life skills as skills that help an individual to be successful in living a productive and satisfying life. All the guiding principles listed above involve helping young people develop life skills, but there are several models that can help you clarify more specifically the life skills that can be part of your curriculum’s learning experiences:

  • Targeting Life Skills Model - This model, developed by Patricia Hendricks, Iowa State University Extension, provides categories of life skills that are based on the four H’s of 4-H: Head - thinking and managing skills; Heart - relating and caring skills; Hands - working and giving skills; and Health - being and living skills. The purpose of the model, which describes what each skill "looks" like at four stages of development (ages 5 to 8, 9 to 11, 12 to14 and 15 to 10), is to help curriculum developers both identify age appropriate skills to incorporate into curriculum and to assess the outcomes. For more information on using this model in your curriculum development efforts, refer to this Web site:
  • Search Institute 40 Assets - The Search Institute, a nonprofit, independent research organization based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has identified 40 developmental assets, which are positive experiences and qualities that influence the development of young people. These assets include 20 external assets, which include positive experiences and support that young people receive from the people and institutions in their lives, and 20 internal assets, which are the internal dispositions (or life skills) that affect and drive a young person’s positive development. There are four categories of internal assets: commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies and positive identity. For more information on this model, refer to this Web site:
  • Four-Fold Youth Development Model - This model was created for the design and evaluation of youth development curriculum and programs. The model encompasses 47 youth development skills that youth will need to develop into confident, capable, caring and responsible citizens. It combines four existing models into one comprehensive model focusing on all four aspects of the individual: head, heart, hands and health. The four models included are the SCANS Workforce Preparation Model, NNST Science Process Skill Model developed by the National Network for Science and Technology, Iowa State University’s Targeting Life Skills Model, and the Search Institute’s Internal Assets.

All these models are based in research that reflects developmental characteristics and the developmentally appropriate skills for various ages. For more information on these characteristics (along with other aspects of the potential learners involved with your curriculum), refer to Addressing Learner Needs and Interests.

Connecting to Content Research

In his seminal work on curriculum development, Tyler (1949) pointed out that content or subject specialists must consider what their subject area can contribute to the education of young people who are not going to be specialists in the respective field. Translating this to an example from the nonformal 4-H learning environment, one could say that although some young people involved with 4-H food and nutrition projects may ultimately choose careers in this area, most will not. Given this, what are the key concepts for young people to learn about or experience that could most affect their positive development? What’s the important content to learn (for example, making nutritious food choices) and what kinds of life skills can this support (for example, good decision-making skills)?

Identify the key sources of research in your respective field, identify the key concepts that are important for people to learn, and then focus on how to convey or teach these concepts through experiential learning activities that are developmentally appropriate for your audience (refer to Expanding Your Project Framework and Making Learning Experiential for more information on how to accomplish this).

Connecting to Department of Education Objectives

Another research connection may involve aligning your curriculum material with - or connecting to - the learning taking place in a person’s formal education. Several resources can provide information on connecting to Michigan Department of Education curriculum standards:

  • The Michigan Curriculum Framework - This guide includes a listing of content standards, which were adopted by the Michigan State Board of Education in 1995. These include arts education (dance, music, theater and visual arts), career and employability skills, English language arts, mathematics, science, social studies and technology. While the standards and benchmarks are not a state curriculum, they are designed to be used by local school districts as they develop their curricula. A complete copy of the framework can be downloaded at That site also includes supplement documents for mathematics (Mathematics Teaching and Learning Sample Activities) and science (Science Education Guidebook).
  • Michigan Health Education Content Standards & Benchmarks - The Michigan Department of Education health education area is "that continuum of learning experiences which enables people, as individuals and as members of social structures, to make informed decisions, modify behaviors, and change social conditions, in ways which are health enhancing" (Michigan Department of Education, 1998). The health education content standards, which are delineated across elementary school, middle school and high school grades, include applied health concepts, accessing information, health behaviors, influences, goal setting and decision-making, social skills and health advocacy. Several areas of 4-H youth development programming and curricula relate to these areas, and it may make sense to make this connection in your materials. For a complete listing of the health education standards, refer to the Health Education section at this Web site:
  • Michigan Model for Comprehensive School Health - The Michigan Model for Comprehensive School Health is another aspect of statewide health education. The Michigan Model is directed by the Michigan Department of Community Health, the Department of Education, the Family Independence Agency and the State Police. These agencies work with a variety of groups to provide the focus for school health curriculum in Michigan. The Michigan Model teaches self-discipline and cooperation, respect for others and respect for self, respect for property and the environment, respect for laws and school rules, compassion and helpfulness, and kindness and nonviolent resolution of conflict. Several areas of 4-H youth development programming and curricula relate to these areas, and it may make sense to make this connection in your materials. For more information on the Michigan Model, refer to the Health Education section at this Web site: .

Compiling Research References

It’s important to keep good track of those sources you consult as you develop your curriculum. Keep a complete listing of all sources you’re using so they can be listed in the "References" section of your final product. And remember to distinguish between references you use for developing your material and those helpful resources you recommend to the users of your material (although there may be overlap). For information on the style to use for listing your references, connect to Selecting Educational Formats, Media and Key Curriculum Components.


  • Barkman, S., Machtmes, K., Myers, H., Horton, R., & Hutchinson, S. (2000). Evaluating 4-H curriculum through the design process: Pilot testing and collecting data for the national 4-H jury review process. Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service.
  • Hendricks, P.A., (1996). Targeting life skills model: Incorporating developmentally appropriate learning opportunities to assess impact of life skills development. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Extension.
  • Horton, R.L., Hutchinson, S., Barkman, S., Machtmes, K., & Myers, H. (1999). Developing experientially based 4-H curriculum materials. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Extension Publications.
  • Michigan Department of Education (1998). Health education content standards and benchmarks. Available at
  • Michigan Department of Education (1996). Michigan curriculum framework. Lansing, MI: Michigan Department of Education.
  • Search Institute,
  • Tanner, D., & Tanner, L. (1995). Curriculum development: Theory into practice. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Simon & Schuster Company.
  • Tyler, R.W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Last Updated: July 29, 2009; Last Reviewed: April, 2009
© Copyright 2008 Michigan State University.