Chemistry for Scouts

Project summary

Montgomery College held a “Chemistry for Scouts” day as part of the 2016 Maryland STEM Festival. Scouts of all ages were invited to college to participate in chemistry activities that could be used to fulfill various STEM badge requirements. Festival organizers sent brochures and a banner to provide additional recognition of the statewide festival. Brochures and the banner were prominently displayed so that all participants were aware of the connection of our event to other STEM activities. The event was held in the Montgomery College Department of Chemistry Laboratories.

The event was registered and advertised through the Maryland STEM Festival website and publications. The Boy Scout Council and the local Girl Scouts organizations also advertised the event directly to local Scout troops. An email box was established to filter communication and a simple registration form was developed.

The event time (12:00 – 4:00 p.m.) was divided into two 2-hour time blocks to effectively manage participants so that we did not overcrowd lab spaces. The following activities were developed for each Scout level:

  • The Boy Scouts (over 11 years old) were able to complete the requirements for the Chemistry Merit Badge and the Nuclear Science Merit Badge. In order to earn each badge, each scout had to take a completed worksheet (http://usscouts.org/mb/worksheets/list.asp) to an accredited representative for the Boy Scouts and obtain an official, signed Boy Scout Application for Merit Badge (No. 34124, blue card).
  • Cub Scouts (ages 5-10 years old) were able to fulfill some requirements for the Super Science Elective Adventure, Forensics Elective Adventure, and Webelos/AOL Elective.
  • Daisy Girl Scouts and Brownie Girl Scouts participated in the same activities as the Cub Scouts. By doing so, Daisy Scouts were able to earn an ACS Activity Patch and Brownie Scouts were able to complete the Girl Scout Kitchen Science Badge.
  • Cadette and Junior Girl Scouts participated in solving a mystery by using forensics, including extensive fingerprinting. Junior Girl Scouts were able to complete the Detective Badge, and Cadette Girl Scouts were able to complete the Special Agent Badge.

Cards were developed for each scout level so participants could pick up a card that aligned with a specific badge and proceed to labeled stations to complete activities.

Faculty and staff helped to develop activities and volunteered on the event day. Student volunteers (~10) were from a STEM Education student group. All volunteers had background checks required by College policy. Purchases included chemicals, household items and consumable supplies, youth goggles and give-away items. A string backpack was designed and printed with a unique chemistry themed design for the event. At check-in, each Scout received a backpack containing goggles and chemistry give-away items. Scouts proceeded to complete activities and picked up the ACS chemistry patch at the conclusion of the event.

Outcomes

  1. We distributed ~140 ACS activity patches during our event.
  2. Approximately 200 people visited the campus who otherwise would not have been familiar with the facilities and location of our institution. Parents and Scouts were able to ask several of our full-time faculty questions about what chemists do on a day-to-day basis and why studying chemistry is useful.
  3. The college holds Rockville Science Day every spring, and in March l interested scout parents and leaders were sent a flyer for Rockville Science Day. Parents of older scouts learn about dual enrollment options for high school students.
  4. New activities geared towards K-12 students to promote chemistry and STEM were developed.

Most successful aspect

When scouts and parents left the event, they were excited about chemistry! Not only did they know a bit more chemistry than before they came, they had a better understanding of how chemistry affects their lives and the world.

Quotes overheard after the event included:

  • Chemistry is so cool!
  • I’m going to be a chemist when I grow up!
  • I’m coming here for college. This was so fun!
  • Let’s do chemistry experiments when we get home!

Tips for similar events

  • Registration: Have a registration process organized before the event is advertised. Our registration process developed as we progressed with fielding inquiries and questions from scout leaders and parents expressing interest in attending. Because the event was much more popular than anticipated, it would be beneficial to start an official registration process earlier to organize and would start an official registration process earlier.
  • Activities and Lab Space: Plan a reasonable number of activities for your space and anticipated number of participants. We were over-ambitious with the number of activity stations set up and did not have enough volunteers to guide participants through all activities at a good pace.
  • Volunteer Recruitment and Organization: Make sure you have sufficient number of properly trained volunteers. Our event would have benefited from stronger turn-out of both faculty and student volunteers. It would have also been helpful to provide some instructional training for our undergraduate student volunteers so that they can explain the chemistry behind some of the activities to make it more valuable learning experience for the scout participants.

Next steps

The Department plans to integrate the activities designed for the Chemistry for Scouts event into another annual out-reach event, Rockville Science Day, which is held every spring at the Montgomery College Rockville campus. Integrating the Chemistry for Scouts activities with the Rockville Science Day activities will allow the Department faculty and staff to continue to be engaged in promoting STEM activities to young students without the added expense and logistics of scheduling a stand-alone chemistry event and without exhausting the volunteer time of our dedicated faculty, staff and students.

We plan to continue to engage with the local Boy and Girl Scout organizations to invite Scout participants to visit the Department on Rockville Science Day. The Scout activity cards, signs and specially designed activities that align with Scout merit badges and patches will continue to be offered.

In addition to continuing to offer the Chemistry for Scouts event during the Rockville Science Day, the Department has continued look for ways for continued collaboration with our partner, the Chemical Society of Washington (CSW). CSW volunteers often assist during the Rockville Science Day events so this will be a continued collaboration. We are also initiating conversations to potentially host a CSW monthly meeting at Montgomery College to allow our undergraduate students to be engaged in a professional society meeting.

Materials produced