Monday, June 17, 2013

Scouting and Astronomy

I was recently drafted by my son's Boy Scout troop* to help them get their astronomy merit badge. It turns out to be quite an endeavor! The requirements can be summarized as follows:

  1. Learn how to pack for observing.
  2. Learn about light pollution.
  3. Learn about how telescopes work.
  4. Identify 10 constellations at 8 stars
  5. Learn how planets move across the sky.
  6. Learn about the moon.
  7. Learn about the sun and other stars.
  8. Visit a planetarium or observatory.
  9. Learn about careers in astronomy.
We're planning a weekend camping trip to one of my university's observatories, and almost as many parents as kids are planning to go.

Out of curiosity, I tried looking up requirements for an equivalent Girl Scout merit badge for astronomy, since activities like the ones described above would be great for getting any kid interested in astronomy, regardless of gender. Now, keep in mind I know little about Girl Scouts, since I only have boys, and I never did much with them when I was young, either.

I found very little in the way of any useful information. All I managed to find was something called "Sky Search" for Junior Girl Scouts, who are 4th-5th graders. By contrast, the Boy Scout troop I'm working with has 6th-12th graders. For this, they need to do six activities from a list that includes

  1. Learn to use a star map
  2. Identify planets in the night sky
  3. Identify 6 constellations
  4. Find the North Star
  5. Learn stories about the night sky
  6. Learn why some stars are brighter than others
  7. Learn when certain constellations are visible only seasonally
  8. Learn about the Solar System
  9. Learn about the motion of the sun
  10. Learn about the moon
  11. Visit a planetarium or talk with an astronomer
  12. Plan an astronomy night
Not only are each of the requirements less in-depth than the Boy Scout activities, but they have fewer of them to do.

If this is an example of how differently Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts treat the sciences, no wonder there are fewer women in science! Now, perhaps I'm just missing something? Maybe there are good programs out there to introduce astronomy and other sciences to Girl Scouts, and I'm just missing something? It's very easy to look up merit badge requirements for Boy Scouts, but I am finding it very difficult to find similar information for Girl Scouts. This makes it difficult for interested volunteers like myself to offer resources to local Girl Scout troops.

Does anyone out there have better information on how an astromer can help out local Girl Scout troops, especially at the middle school and high school levels, where girls start dropping out of science at high rates?

* And I have to say that I'm so pleased that they are now allowing gays to become Scouts. Now I'm just waiting for them to allow LGBT adult leaders.