Robotics Merit Badge Highlights STEM Emphasis
America is falling behind other countries in science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM) education. According to the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, American teens rank 17th in the world in science literacy and 25th in math.
To help fight this growing problem, the Boy Scouts of America is adding STEM to the set of life skills it has traditionally taught. “Last century, camping was an essential survival skill. Sometimes, you might have had to live outside in the 1900s to survive,” said Matt Myers, the Scouting alumnus who is overseeing the STEM initiative for the BSA’s Program Impact Department. “We view STEM as an essential survival skill in the 21st century.”
One big piece of the new STEM initiative is the Robotics merit badge, which debuted this spring after more than a year of planning. To earn the badge, Scouts must (among other requirements) learn about different fields in robotics, design and build their own robot, and attend a robotics competition or learn about such competitions. In the first year alone, BSA officials expect at least 10,000 Scouts to earn the badge. Its development was led by Scouting alumnus Ken Berry, assistant director of the Science and Engineering Education Center at the University of Texas at Dallas.
While STEM education might seem a departure for Scouting, the BSA’s STEM credentials run deep. Nearly 60 percent of America’s astronauts were Scouts—including 11 of the 12 men who walked on the moon—and the BSA has long offered badges in computers, space exploration, and other science- and technology-related topics.