Empowerment, science, girls...okay, and cookies too

Mar 01 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Did you get your Thin Mints yet?

It's Girl Scout cookie season, at least in some parts of the US.  (Cookie sales periods, prices, and even varieties vary by region.)  But Girl Scouts all over the world just celebrated Thinking Day too.  World Thinking Day is in late February every year, and most troops mark the occasion somehow.  A holiday about thinking!  What could be more science-friendly than that?  This year's theme for World Thinking Day was "Empowering Girls Will Change Our World."

So I thought I'd look through my daughter's badge book for what science-related badges Junior Girl Scouts can earn.  Juniors are in grades 4-5-6 in the US; they're the ones with the green sashes.  Science badges for this age include "Aerospace," "Rocks Rock," "Weather Watch," "Science Discovery," "Science in Everyday Life," "Science Sleuth," "Sky Search," "Computer Fun," "Water Wonders," "Discovering Technology," "Plants and Animals," "Environmental Health," "Humans and Habitats," "Math Whiz," and others, depending on your definitions.  Even "Car Care" has girls learning to check the oil, brake fluid, tire pressure; learning about the composition of tires; researching the technologies of energy efficiency, emissions reduction, and passenger safety.  Most of the badge requirements today cannot be done sitting at a table during scout meetings--they require girls to go out and try things, keep journals of their observations, attend events, and talk to experts in the community.

You don't have to be a Girl Scout leader or parent to help empower girls with science experiences.  Offer yourself as a guest speaker at a local troop meeting; determine if your workplace can be made available for a troop to tour; or put together a packet of interesting materials that troop leaders might not be able to find in a craft store.  If there's a Girl Scout camp in your area, see if they need any science equipment you have to spare (even just magnifying glasses!).

Again and again, if you ask adults who were Girl Scouts, they'll tell you specific events, experiences, or people that stuck with them and even affected their career and life paths.  (For me?  Mrs. Cannon.  Taught a bunch of us left-handed girls to crochet, bless her.)  Wouldn't it be cool if, twenty years from now, a woman said "it was that person, that day, that moment," and she was talking about you?

Also?  If you offer your services in the springtime, I can almost guarantee you'll get some cookies as a thank you.   Thin Mints, if you're really good.

12 responses so far

  • Thony C says:

    My big sister is non-scientific and can't understand my history of science blogging (she has other talents, she is an excellent linguist and a first class manager and organizer). However she is a life-long Girl Guide and before she retired was a top honcho in the British Girl Guide movement. It would please her very much to know that I'm sharing a stint of guest blogging with somebody promoting the guiding movement, thank you 😉

  • penny says:

    You're welcome, Thony! My daughter is a fourth-generation Girl Scout-- my grandmother earned the Golden Eaglet Award in the 1930s. My grandmother and my mother were both troop leaders, and now I'm taking my turn at that job.

    There's clearly been an effort to ramp up the science content in the badge book in recent years. I'm almost certain there wasn't an Aerospace badge when I was a kid, though there might have been something like Rocketry.

  • Peggy says:

    Back when I was a Junior Girl Scout, I don't think there were any science-related badges. None that I remember anyway. Our troop mostly did arts and crafts, which I hated (mostly because I felt like I was bad at making things).

    It's excellent that Scouts are now encouraged to learn about subjects like science and car maintenance! If they had had those options 30 years ago I might not have dropped out.

    (Also Samoas or whatever they call them now - Caramel Delights? - are the GS cookie of choice in my house. The little girl next door knows I'm I sure sale, and stops by every year to tempt me.)

  • penny says:

    They're still Samoas here, but I think they're Caramel Delights in other regions. Got some right here on my desk, while I type this...

    I looked into it further: there were badges like "Telegrapher," and "Electrician" in the 1920s, "Glass," "Metal," "Insect Finder," "Radio," "Rock Finder," and "Aviation" in the 1940s; and there have always been an array of nature and weather badges that could be science-based. So it's not that Girl Scouting has never had science badges, because it did. It's more that leaders and camp organizers too often focused elsewhere, for all the usual reasons: Mrs. Cannon knew how to crochet, so that's what she taught us. It was the Bicentennial, so we made cornhusk dolls and dipped candles at camp. And so on.

    This website shows the evolution of American Girl Scout badges related to Nature, Outdoor, and Science:

    • Zuska says:

      That website is wonderful, thanks for sharing. I like the Electrician badge, and the note that the actual badge was "earned by Marion Doris Holz of Germantown, PA, image sent in by granddaughter Marion Young". The badge was discontinued in 1938 - don't know when Marion Holz earned hers, but no later than 1938. And it had been saved all these years. Would just love to know what the requirements for the badge were!

    • Peggy says:

      Aaagh don't remind me about horrid corn husk dolls! I think we also made doilies.

      You're right that our activities probably reflected the interests of our volunteer scout leader.

      What I really wanted to learn was how to tie cool knots and learn outdoor survival skills (I was going through a Little House on the Prairie/live on the frontier phase), but we didn't ever do anything cool like that.

      • penny says:

        I consider the single best skill I learned in Girl Scouts to be tying a square knot. I probably use it every day of my life, if only to put on a pendant. I think I learned at camp, though, not in troop meetings.

        One of the first things I taught my daughter's Brownie troop, before I even became a leader, was how to tie a square knot. "Left over right and under, right over left and under." It's a simple thing, but getting it means your knots will always stay. If you use different color yarns, they can more easily see that you're always moving the same piece of string in the tying.

  • GEARS says:

    ARG! Where are the engineering/tech badges?!?!?!

    • Zuska says:

      Well, the Society of Women Engineers does a lot with Girl Scouts, so if you have a local SWE chapter nearby, see if they have something going on, or see if you can help them get involved with a nearby Girl Scout troop, and bring the engineering/tech to the Girl Scouts that way, if you aren't seeing it in the badges. Some SWE chapters run one day outreach programs focusing on hands-on engineering projects, and teaching girls about STEM careers.

      I wish there had been a Car Care badge when I was involved in Girl Scouts! Alas, my local troop disbanded when I was still a Brownie.

      Though they are now called Caramel Delights around here, they'll always be Samoas to me, and always be my favorite GS cookies!

      • penny says:

        YES! SWE is a great resource for Girl Scout troops (and vice versa, I guess). Thank you for pointing them out in this thread, Zuska.

  • penny says:

    ARG! I think the tech/engineering content is mostly found inside the badge requirements, instead of in their titles. But it's definitely in there. "Making It Matter," for example, has these requirements:

    "2. By adding different ingredients, engineers can change the look, feel, and behavior of a polymer. Here's how you can make different polymers with different properties....

    "3. Electrical engineers work with circuits and electricity. From light switches to electrical generators, engineers keep the juices flowing. Here's your chance to wear an engineer's hat--find out how a doorbell works by making your own.

    "5. Civil engineers design highways and bridges. Knowledge of building materials is needed in order to meet the load demands. Here's an engineering challenge--try to build a structure from which you will hang a cup, using the following materials...

    "6. Visit a factory, water- or sewage-treatment plant, recycling center, waste-to-energy incinerator, power plant, or construction site. Do engineers work there? If so, interview someone about her job."

    "8. Is it an acid or a base? Find out by making your own pH tester...

    "9. Reverse engineering is when you take something apart and see how it works. Find an old appliance...

    "10. Engineers use CAD (computer-assisted design) to test how things they have designed will work before they actually build them. Find out more about CAD by talking to people who use it in their jobs or by doing online research..."

    There are others like this: "Oil Up" has girls making and cleaning up oil spills (in a bowl), mapping the world's oil deposits, and learning about careers in geology, engineering, and ship building; "Science Discovery" has an experiment about friction, using cookie sheets and toy cars; "Ms. Fix-It" involves learning how the fuse box and circuit breakers work, and how to replace a washer in a drippy faucet, and how to rewire a lamp (with adult supervision).

  • Isabel says:

    What a great post. I had totally forgotten earning all those badges! I had a full sash of them (I wonder where it is now?), but only vaguely remember the topics. But yes, many were definitely science-related, or at least outdoorsy, like Conservation, Exploring, Insects, Gardening, etc, but I'm definitely jealous of the new offerings.

    Some were about being a good citizen and others were craft related. I remember going to a lady's house for sewing lessons for the Sewing badge, and she made us giggle by loudly bursting into bits of old songs like "what's it all about Alfie". I also remember pasting squares of all the different fabrics I could find, labeling them etc and learning how they were manufactured for that badge. We learned knots in our regular meetings, and also how to build fires, which I am still great at:)

    The cookie-selling part wasn't so fun, and IMO an unfair competition which was biased against poorer immigrant families like mine, and the meetings could be boring, with too much time planning things in our little groups (patrols??). I wonder if the old girl scout cabin is still there? I never thought to check before, but I think I will on my next visit to my old hometown. And now I really want to find that sash!