Why do we do STEM in Scouting?
Because of Scouts like Pete*.
Pete is a curious Scout. Always wanting to *do* things. Sometimes, as his Scoutmaster, it’s frustrating how much he wants to do. But lately, I’ve decided: Sometimes you have to let Pete do the thing.
Last weekend, on a campout, he wanted to boil an egg by putting it in a Styrofoam cup full of water in the fire. Now, it would have been easier just to scramble that egg. But I let Pete do the thing. He had a ball. He did indeed learn you can boil an egg in that manner, even if some of your water boils off and the part of your cup not protected by the water inside it burns and melts and curls up all over the place.
This is not the limit of Pete’s wanting to do the thing. Last fall, he wanted to build his own zipline. Fortunately, he didn’t ask his Scoutmaster to do this, but he did ask his parents. They, too, let Pete do the thing. He built a zipline in his backyard, stretching from a tree to their trampoline – so he’d have somewhere soft to land, he said. To show he’d thought it through, he also strapped a pillow to his hips, in case he didn’t make it to the landing spot. Pete’s zipline didn’t zip – he never gained enough momentum to complete the trip form tree to trampoline – but Pete got to do the thing.
This is why we do STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – in Scouting.
STEM in Scouting is represented by the NOVA program, in addition to the little bits of science, technology, engineering and math Scouts learn and accomplish as they work on their rank advancements. Through NOVA’s seven modules, Scouts learn why race cars have spoilers on them. They make and launch stomp rockets. They observe wildlife, talk to scientists, map asteroids, learn how technology is used in construction, and design their own secret code.
I can hear it already:
“But Mister Smarty Pants, I’m already struggling to get my Scouts through the requirements for rank advancements. I don’t have time to do the NOVA program on top of all of that!”
I hear you.
But remember, sometimes it’s important to let Pete do the thing.
The BSA goes on to say: “By working with an adult counselor or mentor, the various modules allow [Scouts] to explore the basic principles of STEM and discover how fun and fascinating STEM can be. “
Should we be more excited about science and technology? I kinda think so.
The Pew Research Center polled Americans in 2013 and discovered that only 20 percent of those polled could identify nitrogen as the dominant gas in Earth’s atmosphere. And while 77 percent of those polled knew that a major problem with the overuse of antibiotics is the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, I’m a little worried about that 23 % that didn’t know.
We ought to encourage increased literacy in science, in engineering, in math and technology, to help our Scouts better understand the world they live in.
Here’s why you shouldn’t let time dismiss the NOVA program:
- You don’t have to do it. Find a parent, an assistant den leader, someone in your chartered organization who has a passion for science. If you’re LDS, talk to your bishop about getting that person on board to help with the NOVA program.
- You’re already doing it. Some of the requirements for the NOVA program dovetail with rank advancements. Do you have a Webelos Scout who’s completed the Camper and Earth Rocks adventures, or a Wolf Scout who is done with Digging in the Past and Germs Alive? That Scout has completed one of the requirements for the “Science Everywhere” NOVA module.
- Your Scouts are already doing it. Check with your Scouts and their parents. There’s a good chance they’re already read a science-related book or watched an hour of science-related television, and can make a list of two questions or ideas from what he read or watched and talk about those questions or ideas with his NOVA counselor (which, I’ll remind you, doesn’t have to be you). There’s another “Science Everywhere” requirement done.
- Not every Scout will want to do it. I’ve been Scoutmaster for 3 ½ years, and in that time I’ve had one Scout work his way through the NOVA program. I challenged him to do it when he earned his Eagle Scout award when he turned 13. And I’m working with my two Scout-aged sons – slowly – through the program. They might finish. They might not. I’m doing it at their pace.
If I know one thing about boys, it’s that you never know what’s going to pique their interest. So in interest in piquing their interest, don’t stand in the way if your Pete just wants to do the thing. Unless he wants to build a zipline. That’s when you send him home.
*Not his real name. But Pete is a real Scout.