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.


Caroline said...

This is a little unfair since it compares two different age levels. For Cadette and Senior Girl Scouts (7th-12th grades), the requirements for the "Space Exploration" Interest Patch are the following, some of which are pretty involved (though a slightly different focus than the Merit Badge you described):

Space Exploration
A. Skill Builders (Choose 2)
"Learn about at least 4 astronomical phenomena: quasars, pulsars, novas, supernovas, black holes, dward stars, giant stars, protostars, etc. Can you observe any of these with the naked eye?"
"Visit a museum, planetarium, observatory or space center & learn the history of space exploration. Make a file of your findings."
Learn about the sun & the moon & their relationship to earth. Do two of the items listed in your book.
"Discuss ""the case for space"" addressing issues such as: Who owns space? Who owns the moon? What if we find other life in space? Come up with charts & posters depicting your questions & answers."
Science fiction predicts future developments. Read science fiction written in the 1960's or earlier. How do they appear today in light of new information people have about space?
Develop your own space exploration activity.
B. Technology (Choose 1)
"Find out about the capabilities of today's telescopes. If possible, visit an observatory or a site on the Web to learn more."
Investigate roles of mathematics & computer simulations in developing theories about the universe. Talk with someone knowledgeable in astronomy or physics if possible.
Design a human space colony. Decide whether it is a station in space or one that will be set up on a planet in this solar system. What conditions need to be considered. Share & explain your design or model with others.
"Build an accurate scale model of a space exploration vehicle. Find out about its design, function & basic operation. Help other learn about your vehicle."
"Construct a ""flying object"". Be able to explain the scientific principles that governed your design."
C. Service Projects (Choose 1)
"Help sponsor an event, space activity day or science career day. Incorporate hands on activities."
Develop a booklet or display that highlights women who have played an important role in the history of flight & space exploration.
"Help Brownie or Junior Scouts learn about space exploration. Do 2: put on a play, tell a story, or share stories from differrent cultures about the night sky."
"Design a library exhibit about space & astronomy for your school, library or town rec. center. Include books, an activity box & a list of resources in your display."
"Using glow-in-the-dark paint, stars, or reflector tape, make an accurate constellation map on a ceiling. Include a minimum of 12 constellations. Create a guided tour of the ceiling."
D. Career Exploration (Choose 1)
"Check out at least 2 careers & show how they are linked to space programs: biomedical engineering, meteorology, ceramics, chemistry, industrial engineering, materials science, metallurgy, optical engineering, physiology & photography."
"Plan to attend a ""space camp"" or astronomy camp to get more hands-on experiences."
Contact 2 science societies for professional women related to astronomy or space exploration. What careers are related to space exploration.
List 5 ways you can maintain your interest in space and/or astronomy. Investigate & list space-related places to visit or activities to pursue in your community or on the Web.

FWIW, Girl Scouts of Palo Alto keeps a list of interest patches with their requirements. Located here:

Janice said...

From the 2011 Junion Girl Scout Badgebook for the Sky Search Badge. Do six of the following...

1) Mapping the skys - learn how to use a star map. Obtain or make such a map for your stargazing location that adjusts to the tie and season when you are observing stars.

2) Constellations - Constellations are stars that appear to be in groups when looked at from Earth. If you were to travel in a spaceship, you would find that most stars that look close together are actually billions of miles apart. Learn to identify at least five of the constellations seen from Earth.

3) Direction, Please - Learn about the North Star and way it has been used for navigation thoughout history. Help others locate the North Star. Use th North Star to find two constellations of asterisms (part of a constellation.)

4) Planets - Learn which of the nine planets are visible to the naken eye. Try to locate at least one of these during a star gazing adventure. If possible, use a telescope to help you see better detail. Write down what you discover.

5) Connect the Dots - Learn stories from two or more ancient cultures - such as Greek, Norse, American Indian, Pacific Islander, or Chinese - that were used to explain what was seen in the sky

6) Tools of the Trade - Learn the parts of a telescope and how to use one. If possible, use a tracking telescope of look through telescopes with different magnifications. -OR- Visit a large observatory and learn what kinds of telescopes are used there. What do astronomers learn by using telescopes.

7) Time for the Moon - Learn more about the moon - its phases, age, names of features - and then take a closer look. The best time to observe the moon is when the moon is partially lit, around the quarter phases of the moon. Use binoculars or a small telescope to help you see the valleys, ridges, mountain ranges, and craters of the moon.

8) The Sky is Falling! - Learn about meteors, meteorites, meteor showers, and comets Find out when meteor showers may be visible in your area. With an adult, arrange a meteor-watching party and count the number you see in an hour.

9) Star Stamps - Address an envelope to yourself of a friend, including your solar address. Draw a stamp on your envelop that celebrates an event in space exploration. Write a letter and include a map to your favorite planet.

10) Mission: Space - Learn about a current mission in space. What is the purpose of the mission, and how is information recorded and sent back to Earth? If possible, follow the mission over a period of time and visit a Web site that describes the mission and shares pictures or data.

The End

Myself, I've always been impressed by the Girl Scout badge requirements.

Hannah said...

Caroline & Janice,

Thanks for your helpful comments! I wish the Girl Scout badges and requirements were easier to find on the internet. The Boy Scout ones were super easy to find.

Emily said...

I grew up in Girl Scouts, and earned my Gold Award many moons ago by creating astronomy packets for different age brackets and teaching local teachers how to use them. Years later, I've returned to pursue astronomy, and the work I did then is proving useful now. However, it took me a great deal of convincing my local council to allow me to do this project. Girls who collected clothes or dog food were rubber-stamped, but scientific research and educational writing were frowned upon.

This is just one of the many things I regret about Scouting, looking back; how little of the merit badge work really prepared girls for research, science, or careers. This is changing now, however, as Studio 2B is taking over instead of traditional Girl Scouting, and it seems to have a much more modern flavor. Here's hoping for the future!

Anonymous said...

Another resource is:
This is a program established with Girl Scouts in mind (ages 11-13) by astronomers from JHU, STScI, University of Maryland, CUA, and Goddard Space Flight Center and was made possible through NASA Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) funding. I was part of the original team led by Ann Hornschemeier and have attended many of the events and have adapted some of the events for smaller audiences on my own.