Girl Scouts Can Now Earn Badges For STEM Skills & Heck Yes, Science

by JR Thorpe
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Being a Girl Scout is about a lot more than selling extremely delicious cookies; being a part of the organization means learning major skills that can help you in all areas of life. Now, Girl Scouts of the USA has announced that girls aged 5 to 18 can earn an entirely new set of 30 badges to add to their collection, and they're based on the technologies and needs of the future. The Girl Scouts' new STEM badges will help girls hone their skills in "environmental stewardship," coding and robotics, cybersecurity, and mechanical engineering, a press release reported. Am I too old to join? Because I kind of want all of them.

The STEM badges cover an extensive range of interests and hobbies for basically every part of science and engineering. It's now possible for Scouts from kindergarten to the age of 18 to earn Robotics badges that teach them how to "program, design and showcase robots." There are also two new "journeys", or routes for girls through all their years in the Girl Scouts: Think Like a Programmer and Think Like An Engineer. The first aims to make girls from sixth grade to grade 12 into computer science experts who are capable of problem-solving, data science, and all the other attributes of future tech whizzes. The Think Like An Engineer program, meanwhile, lets girls earn badges by learning how to design solutions to all kinds of issues, including engineering problems in their own cities and towns.

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Girls who are younger than sixth grade will get their own specifically tailored new badges, too. New badges for girls in grades K-5 include Space Science, which is funded by NASA and helps foster a passion for space exploration and astronomy, and Cybersecurity, which is designed to help them understanding how to keep safe online and how to spot cybercrime. The one that sounds the most excitingly hands-on, though, has to be the Mechanical Engineering badge, which has been newly adapted for kids in grades 4 and 5 — because, the Girl Scouts says, they can "design paddle boats, cranes, and balloon-powered cars, learning about buoyancy, potential and kinetic energy, machines, and jet propulsion." Making plans to spend this lunchtime designing a balloon-powered car right now.

Keeping girls excited about STEM, and the weird and wonderful things you can do with it, is crucial to maintaining their passion for it later in life. And that matters. A study about STEM in 2018 by Microsoft interviewed 6,000 American girls and women between the ages of 10 and 30, and found that girls often lose interest in STEM subjects because of peer pressure, gender bias in teaching, a lack of mentors and parental encouragement, and misconceptions that girls are "worse" at STEM subjects than boys.

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That last one has been pretty comprehensively busted by science. Research has found that school-age girls on average outperform their male counterparts in STEM subjects in countries where there's higher gender equality, and that girls often do worse in tests than boys (despite doing better in schoolwork) because of anxiety about "not being good at the subject." There's no good reason for shutting girls out of STEM subjects — and programs like the Girl Scouts are working to make sure girls learn about how fun and world-changing science, math and tech can be.

The badges are also responsive to the realities of living in today's world, particularly for young women. New Environmental Stewardship badges for girls from kindergarten to grade 12 aim to make Scouts into environmental activists who can find solutions to ecological challenges, while the College Knowledge badge is designed for girls in their final years of high school to help with college application processes, like financial aid applications. The Scouts notes that "the badge fills a specific need that girls asked for — and that many do not have support for outside Girl Scouts."

It's all designed to build a generation of girls who are educated, passionate, eco-friendly and capable. And who can design excellent balloon-powered cars.