How does the STEM program fit when it comes to rank advancement for the Boy Scouts of America?
The STEM program provides additional areas for the Scouts to explore, along with their requirements for earning rank advancement. So it fits in with the Merit Badge program. The Nova requirements all have a merit badge requirements in them, so Scouts have to earn a merit badge as part of the requirements.
The Super Nova awards also require a Scout to be First Class or higher, and I’ve found many Scouts who are not first class but have earned Novas and have been excited by that program are now interested in earning the Super Nova. So it’s kind of an incentive for them to finish their ranks and earn at least First Class so they can work on those Super Nova awards.
What resources are available for a leader to assist them with STEM activities?
The thing that I always tell Scouts and adults is to pick up one of those Nova Awards Guide book(s). You can get them at the Scouting stores. They really have everything the Scout needs to earn those awards and learn about the science, technology, engineering and math topics that are in there.
It also contains links to sites where they can find additional information. So for the adult that’s a counselor or mentor, it also provides the information to help them work with Scouts so they can learn that material and help the Scouts earn those awards, as well as giving them more activity ideas. What we’ve done in our troop and I recommend is that the troop assign an adult as a STEM coordinator.
Troops can also look to connect with external resources like setting up trips to local STEM companies or universities, or they can also find guest speakers that could come in and present at troop meetings or campouts. Bringing in the external experts can really help troops to conduct a Nova program and help those Scouts learn more about these STEM fields, especially, as you said, if the adults in those troops don’t really have much of a STEM background. And troops will be very surprised how quickly these professionals are willing to share their time and love of science. We’ve used that opportunity many times.
Be on the lookout for the Boys’ Life special STEM issue that we’re going to be publishing in September; it will have some fun activities and experiments in it for the Scouts. We’re going to feature a STEM campout university. We’re going to be profiling a guy who is a chemical engineer, very much a STEM-related field, but he works as a candy maker for Hershey’s.
It’s not a difficult program to start. Even though it can be daunting, get that book. It’s not a difficult program to start and develop. It does require some adults that are willing to help get it moving, but what I find is that the Scouts really enjoy this program. The PLC (Philmont Training Center) had science as one of their monthly themes recently and those Scout leaders put together a lesson plan so that for every troop meeting in that month we had covered the requirements for the Shoot! Nova for science.
And we had told the Scouts up ahead we’re going to be doing this; those were some of the most well attended meetings we had. They wanted to earn that Nova and they got to do a lot of fun activities and it generated a lot of conversation about the STEM Merit Badges and the other Nova awards. After we finished the Nova work, many of the Scouts wanted to do another one. They were really excited by this.
The parents have also asked me about the Nova awards and what else the Scouts could do. Some have even volunteered to help put together lesson plans for another Nova. I had a couple of Scouts that got together after school and they built a much larger, more involved catapult and they brought it in to show the other Scouts in the troop meeting and to talk about it. So, bottom line there’s a lot of fun things to do within STEM and Scouts and one that will definitely help prepare these youths for the future.
How do you incorporate STEM in your troop?
Author: Ron Colletti has been an active BSA volunteer as a member of the Greater St. Louis Area Council since 2006 and has had various adult leadership roles in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and in the Order of the Arrow. He is a member of the National BSA STEM Committee and is helping to develop new Boy Scout NOVA awards, and has led many STEM counselors and mentor training sessions. In addition to promoting STEM in Scouting, Ron is also a member of the Science Outreach program at his company and visits classrooms to do chemistry demos with students.