Girl Scouts tackle STEM to earn new badges - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Girl Scouts tackle STEM to earn new badges

September 30th, 2018 SanTan Sun News
Girl Scouts tackle STEM to earn new badges

By Colleen Sparks, Managing Editor

Several Chandler Girl Scouts quickly folded small pieces of paper, creating various shapes and chatting as an adult leader guided them through an activity-packed Scouts troop gathering.

To an outsider, it might appear as if Brownie Troop 4239 was working on a crafts project, but the girls were honing their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.

They are among thousands of girls who are rallying to the Girl Scouts of the USA’s recently unveiled new badges.

Girl Scouting has entered the 21st century, with those 30 new badges encouraging the pursuit of mechanical engineering, cybersecurity, robotics, computer science and space exploration.

The Troop 4239 Brownies were creating their own “leap bots” – devices that move along a tabletop – to earn their Brownie Leap Bot Design Challenge Badges.

Co-troop leader Sarah Anderson, whose daughter Zoe Neal, 8, is in the troop, first asked the girls to read descriptions of engineering terms such as balanced forces, potential energy, data, force and friction so they would learn a little mechanical engineering.

The qirls eagerly answered Anderson’s mechanical engineering questions – such as “Where do you find springs?”

The girls answered fans, chairs, beds and pens.

When she asked what engineers designed, they named cars, refrigerators and iPhones.

Several Brownies said they like learning science and math at school, especially maneuvering an Ozobot – a small ball that is flat at the bottom and can be controlled with a tablet.

“I like doing science experiments and math,” Ini Osho, 8, said.

A third-grader at Chandler Traditional Academy-Goodman, Ini wants to be a doctor, teacher or nurse when she grows up. Her father is an Intel engineer.

Anderson and Troop 4239 co-leader Laura Piffero are thrilled Girl Scouts has added the new STEM-focused badges.

“I think it’s necessary that obviously all kids get taught or have the same opportunities when it comes to learning, that it advances all of us, not just math in boys but (in) girls, especially the way technology is nowadays,” Piffero said.

“Girls are snapping on, and they’re getting it quickly, so I’m really excited that they’re offering more of these types of programs for girls.”

Piffero, a Chandler fund developer for nonprofit organizations, has a 7-year-old daughter, Khloe Coochwytewa, a second-grader at CTA-Goodman, who is in the troop. Another daughter, 27-year-old Hillary Whitney, was a Girl Scout as a child.

A registered nurse, Anderson said she wished she had known what engineers do when she was a child.

“I’ve been really pushing it,” with the Brownies, she said. “They may expand their minds and opportunities.”

Her daughter Zoe said she likes STEM subjects, explaining, “I mostly like science. It helps you learn because if you don’t learn you might have difficulties in life.”

Zoe said she might like to teach ballet some day, noting that “force,” an engineering term, is used in dance. But she might pursue other dreams.

“I am actually training to be on ‘America’s Got Talent,’” as a singer, Zoe said. “Singers need to know math because of the notes.”

Merae Leslie, 8, another Brownie and CTA-Goodman student, is also enthusiastic about the Girl Scouts’ new emphasis on STEM subjects.

“I like doing multiplication and adding to it and dividing,” Leslie said. “I like learning about how things work in science and the way things are prepared.”

The girls in Troop 4239 also were reading a story about how robots fit into their lives and planned to go to the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix to learn more about robots.

“Sometimes I think it’s a misconception our little girls get together to do girly things; just to play,” Piffero said. “I was a Girl Scout for years. I think it’s a great opportunity that Girl Scouts in general across the nation have engaged the philosophy of our girls and what they want to learn versus what they need to learn, and they open up these opportunities for them to dive into them.

“Girl Scouts are most known for cookies; there’s so much more to Girl Scouts now.”

Girl Scouts who attend Gilbert schools are also getting into the STEM activities.

Girl Scout Cadettes Troop 1084 is working on the Girl Scouts Journey titled “Engineering: Think Like an Engineer,” which exposes them to design thinking to understand how engineers solve problems.

Troop 1084 also plans to: design a prototype life vest that could help a dog swim, create a cabin using things found outdoors and design a prosthetic leg for an elephant, using their own legs to test it out.

“I like the idea of things that are more useful to today’s children,” said Kristal Nimmons, co-troop leader of Troop 1084 whose daughters, McKenzi, 13, and Kassidi, 11, are in the troop.

“Building a fire or putting up a tent won’t get you super far in today’s world.”

She said the girls in her troop, who are in grades 6-8, will also visit an Apple store to earn their Cadette Digital Movie Maker Badge. They will make a movie using equipment in the Apple store and likely save it on a flash drive.

Troop 1084 girls earned woodworking badges after using hammers, nails, saws, screwdrivers and other tools to build bird houses in May.

Kristal, who works in telecommunications, said her troop will also work on a “Netiquette” badge, where they learn how to stay safe online and how to write appropriate emails, among other digital safety skills.

McKenzi is excited about working on the STEM-related badges.

“They sound so fun, especially the prosthetic leg for the elephant,” she said. “You can just see how much fun the girls are having learning about all this stuff like engineering.”

McKenzi said she wants to be a teacher when she is an adult, but she knows some girls who want to become engineers.

Her sister Kassidi is also pumped about the STEM projects, especially the prosthetic leg for the elephant.

“I was at the movies the other day; I saw a commercial for an elephant,” she said. “That was really cool. I think it’ll be a little hard, but I think we can do it.”

Kassidi said learning about cybersecurity is also “really important,” noting that in class, “we read a story about cyberbullying and how it might affect people.”

Brownie Troop 4672, covering Scottsdale and Cave Creek, is going to work on a Cybersecurity badge.

Troop co-leader Toya Abrams said she is very protective of her daughter, Jordan, 8, and does not let her do anything online.

Another mother who is a co-leader of the troop has allowed her daughter more online freedom, and that daughter has experienced cyberbullying, Abrams said.

When the new Girl Scouts calendar year starts in October, Abrams said the girls in the troop will work on a “Brownie Think Like a Citizen Scientist Award Badge” and a “Brownie Inventor Badge.”

Abrams said the girls will learn to “start to embrace their ideas” and “think outside the box” as they pursue the scientist badge. They will invent something and hope to share their inventions with children who are at Phoenix Children’s Hospital as a nice way to lift their spirits.

“I think that it’s really important to of course help them be well-rounded and to give them a sample of anything and everything you can,” Abrams said. “It’s really important to explain what STEM is.”

An Arizona State University professor and former classroom teacher, Abrams said troop leaders do not want the girls thinking these subjects are more often tackled by men than women.

Her daughter, Jordan, already enjoys STEM subjects in school.

“We’re doing natural disasters in science,” she said. “We made a tornado.”

About 21,000 girls are members of Girl Scouts-Arizona Cactus-Pine Council, which includes the Valley and northern Arizona. Girl Scouts aims to help girls develop their interests in a safe environment, Heather Thornton, senior manager of marketing and communications for Arizona Cactus-Pine Council said.

“That is when they’re developing their interests for their future; that’s when they’re seeing all their possibilities,” Thornton said, adding:

“You kind of innately know you’re capable of accomplishing that. It provides girls with the ability at a young age to build competency, that’s very important; to have this influence on girls’ lives, it’s very important to make sure we’re helping them develop things that are relevant to their lives; prepare for leadership for everything they do.

“STEM being so important in our society right now; not only the careers; but also it’s important to girls right now. These badges are developed in terms of feedback by what girls need to learn about.”

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