Girl Scouts as young as 5 now have the opportunity to earn badges while learning and exploring space science. The badges, unveiled by the Girl Scouts of the United States of America 2 months ago, are awarded to girls who make a dedicated effort to learn about the Sun, solar system, and stars by reading, observing, modeling, and sharing information with peers.
The reasoning behind the badges is simple: Space science needs girls, explained Pamela Harman, acting director for the center for education at SETI Institute. “We want them to be interested [in space science]. We want them to know that it’s exciting and collaborative,” she told Eos.
Harman leads a collaborative project between NASA and the Girl Scouts called “Reaching for the Stars: NASA Science for Girl Scouts.” The program currently offers space science badges for scouts in kindergarten through 5th grade, destination camps and astronomy clubs for scouts, and training programs for volunteers and troop leaders.
Surveys taken in September, 1 month after the space science badges were released, revealed that nearly 3,000 troops started working toward earning them. Harman presented these and other findings about space science and scouting last week at the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Knoxville, Tenn.
Reaching for the Stars
The program, called “Girl Scout Stars” for short, has been in development since 2015. It has hosted a destination camp at an astronomical observatory in Oregon and star parties in northern California and sent out 300 solar eclipse kits to more than 90 Girl Scout councils for the 2017 Great American Eclipse.
In August 2018, Girl Scouts launched three new badges as part of the program: Space Science Explorer for Daisy Scouts in grades K–1, Space Science Adventurer for Brownie Scouts in grades 2–3, and Space Science Investigator for Junior Scouts in grades 4–5.
To earn a badge, Girl Scouts have options to, for example, make a book of what the Sun or Moon looks like in the sky, design their own constellation complete with a background story, build a model of the solar system, construct their own telescopes, stargaze through telescopes, and hold their own star party.
Most important, Harman said, a Girl Scout will share her newfound space science knowledge with other girls—by helping younger scouts in their own activities, creating and presenting space art, or acting out a Mars rover mission with a group, for example. The latter activities help girls to develop confidence to lead science activities in a group setting—roles that they often cede to boys in the classroom.
Program leaders used education research to tailor the scope of the science and complexity of the activities to each badge level and make age-appropriate learning objectives, Harman said. Each badge also includes training material and teaching guides for the troop leaders and volunteers who run the activities at the local level.
In the first month of the program, more than 1,000 Daisy, 1,000 Brownie, and 800 Junior troops started working toward space science badges, Harman told Eos. In the initial program evaluation, the Girl Scout Research Institute reported that these girls gained scientific knowledge and achieved the learning objectives of the space science activities.
They also found that girls felt more confident in their knowledge of space science, improved their problem-solving skills, better understood the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to people in society, and were excited to continue learning about space, Harman said.
It has been rewarding “to know that there are troops interested in doing this and that we were right when we thought girls would be interested space science,” she added.
Supporting Future STEM Leaders
These three space science badges are part of a larger Girl Scouts initiative seeking to get girls interested in STEM fields at a young age.
“In this past summer, the Girl Scouts released cybersecurity badges, mechanical engineering badges, robotics badges, and, of course, the three space science badges,” Harman said. “I’m so pleased and proud that the Girl Scouts are really working on STEM opportunities for girls.”
Girl Scout Stars will unveil three more space science badges—Researcher for Cadettes (grades 6–8), Expert for Seniors (grades 9–10), and Master for Ambassadors (grades 11–12)—in late 2019. Harman said that the institutions organizing the program plan to apply for additional funding through 2025, which would let them plan nationwide activities for the 2024 total solar eclipse.
“Girl Scouting is about developing leadership skills,” and in an all-girl environment, they can hone these leadership skills for science, Harman said. “It’s powerful to see it in action.”
—Kimberly M. S. Cartier (@AstroKimCartier), Staff Writer
Correction, 1 November 2018: This article has been updated to reflect the terms used for Girl Scout badges and the number of troops working to earn space science badges.