The Boy Scouts have a grand tradition of helping to equip young members with practical life skills with real-world applications. In the past this has meant outdoor survival skills such as knot tying, cooking and map reading. However, the next generation of Boy Scouts may be more interested in coding than campfire songs - and several troupes have begun updating their activities accordingly to attract new members and help drag the venerable institution into the 21st century.
The STEM Scouts program is an offshoot of the Boy Scouts of America, using hands-on activities, field trips and mentorship opportunities to help participants to develop their skills and confidence in fundamental STEM concepts outside the classroom environment. Where parents might get involved with a traditional scout camp by volunteering as troop leaders, in STEM Scouts they can volunteer as assistant lab leaders - helping them to brush up on their own skills while sharing the experience with their children.
STEM Scouts also aims to continue the drive towards inclusivity and modern values that has seen the Boy Scouts transform many of their policies in recent years. Boys and girls are welcome at STEM Scout events, and units are split into distinct groups to help children from elementary to high school age to get involved at a level that will be interesting and rewarding to them. The focus is very much on participation and leadership rather than rank advancement or grades.
While STEM Scouts is far from the first extra-curricular STEM program, the hope is that by putting it STEM activities into the framework of scouting, they can attract a different demographic of children who may not necessarily gravitate towards existing math and coding clubs. As STEM Scouts national director April McMillan explains, "the idea is more to get kids excited in the STEM field, and less about giving them hard job-training skills." Participants are therefore encouraged to take the reins during projects rather than following a set learning schedule, with plenty of room for experimentation and trial and error.
The fundamental scouting principles of community service and character building are also woven heavily into STEM Scouts, with assignments including designing games and learning transferable skills that they can teach in children's hospitals and nursing facilities. They have also proven useful for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and those who speak English as a second language, providing an environment where they can learn and interact with their fellow students in an environment where the focus is not on grades or following curriculum - areas where many students in these demographics statistically struggle, often dissuading them from pursuing further studies.
To date, STEM Scounts has formed more than 200 labs across the USA, allowing more than 2,000 children to participate in their program of activities. As with the Boy Scouts themselves, the labs are run by volunteers from the local community - usually parents or teachers. The program typically involves weekly meetings with regular field trips and four-to-six week learning modules on completion of which participants receive the ultimate Boy Scout accolade - a badge.
Did the Boy Scouts help to shape your interest in engineering as a child? Are you involved with any STEM Scout programs today? Let us know in the comments section below...