Spotlight: Coed STEM Programs in the Boy Scouts of America

Spotlight: Coed STEM Programs in the Boy Scouts of America

Currently, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) offers several programs for both boys and girls: Cub Scouts for youth aged 5-10, Venturing and Sea Scouts for youth aged 14-20, and Exploring for youth aged 10-20. Additionally, in 2019, the BSA will begin offering Boy Scouts to girls aged 11-17. Because BSA’s scouting programs include activities that emphasize science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), they may help close the gender gap in STEM employment.

In particular, BSA offers two STEM education programs: the STEM-Nova Awards and STEM Scouts.


STEM-Nova Awards

Boy Scouts
Image courtesy Thomas Hawk | Flickr

The STEM-Nova Awards were developed by the BSA in response to nationwide calls to improve youth achievement in STEM education. These awards aim to boost excitement about STEM learning. Another goal of the awards is to improve STEM literacy. STEM literacy is necessary for securing employment in these fields, so involving girls in this STEM literacy program can only improve their ability to secure such jobs in the future.

Each of the STEM-Nova Awards has its own requirements, but they all have in common several learning strategies. These include watching, reading, writing, participating in oral discussions, and completing hands-on activities. Many also involve visiting a place related to the award topic. This well-rounded design is likely to engage each scout in at least one way that is matched to their optimal learning style.

STEM-Nova Awards for Cub Scouts and Venturers are already available to both boys and girls. For Cub Scouts, the STEM topics covered by the awards are earth science, wildlife, space exploration, technology, motion, machines, mathematics, physics, symmetry, and archaeology. For Venturers, additional STEM topics include projectiles, aviation, weather, astronomy, transportation, scientific modeling, sports equipment design, bridge building, cryptography, and hydrology. Agriculture and farming are other areas of focus. Soon, girls will be eligible to receive STEM-Nova Awards through Boy Scout troops as well.

In addition to the Nova Awards, the BSA offers Supernova Awards for those who complete more in-depth projects and additional requirements. For Cub Scouts, the awards teach concepts related to geometry, interest rates, statistics, and probability, while at the Webelos level, topics include construction engineering, geology, and rocketry. For Boy Scouts, Supernova Awards emphasize the skills important to all STEM disciplines: research, preparation, coordination, organization, analysis, reflection, and presentation reporting. All Supernova Awards require approval at the district or council level.

When scouts earn their first STEM-Nova Award, they receive an emblem to wear on their uniform. For each additional STEM-Nova Award they earn, they get a pin that can be added to the emblem. Those who reach the Supernova level receive a medal that can be worn on special occasions, as well as a bar pin for everyday wear. These emblems and pins give scouts a sense of pride in their hard work and achievements, and signal their accomplishments to others.


STEM Scouts

STEM Scouts is a coed program of the BSA that is available to elementary, middle, and high school students in grades 3-12. Emphasizing hands-on learning in STEM disciplines, STEM Scouts meetings are available in select locations around the country. All meetings are led by at least one male and one female adult, many of whom are STEM professionals. Outcome goals for the program include introducing youth to research methods, STEM concepts, and STEM careers. STEM Scouts also provides a mobile lab that travels to group meetings.

At the elementary school level, STEM Scouts activities help youth learn about gravity, robotics, astronomy, machines, and health. In the mobile lab, experiments involve flipbook animation, optical illusions, electrical circuits, composting, and chemistry. At the middle school level, meeting topics include nutrition and exercise, forensics, astronomy, and hydraulics. Mobile lab experiments introduce scouts to special effect photography, programming, the science behind static electricity, and genetics concepts. High school STEM Scouts explore similar topics as middle schoolers, but at a more advanced level. Their mobile lab experiments involve 3-D modeling, fingerprint analysis, and the science and technology involved in making music.

STEM Scouts earn digital badges as they complete activities and experiments. These badges represent achievement in leadership, communication, creative problem-solving, teamwork, and research. Additionally, high school STEM Scouts have the opportunity to publish the results of their experiments in the Scientific Journal of the BSA, a peer-reviewed journal. Submissions that follow scientific standards and present research or an engineering project can be published. For publication, the STEM Scout can enlist the help of an advisor, but must be responsible for at least 75% of the work. This is a unique opportunity that introduces youth to the process of “real” scientific research and publishing standards. In addition, an article published in a journal is an impressive achievement to include on college and scholarship applications.

Currently, STEM Scouts is available on a limited basis in 33 cities across the country; for a complete list, check the STEM Scouts website. However, the BSA is interested in expanding the program to additional locations. All that is required are volunteers willing to take on leadership roles.