Playing with science and more

Makel Anderson and Jacob Orcutt mix materials together to make slime as part of a new local STEM Scouts troop. The Boy Scouts of America organization is supporting the pilot program to give girls and boys an opportunity to explore science, technology, engineering and math in a hands-on way. Photo courtesy Robyn Macklin

A group of Scouts is trading neckerchiefs for lab coats as part of a new STEM Scouts troop focusing on science, engineering, technology and math

Recently, eight kids worked together on becoming masters of matter, mixing glue, water cornstarch and water to create something entirely new.

“All of them together make this gooey, but not so gooey slime,” explained 10-year-old Jonah Weber, who learned the importance of meticulous measurement and lab safety practices in the pursuit of discovery at the inaugural meeting.

They’re part of a growing number of girls and boys across the nation to join the Boy Scouts of America’s pilot program that tries to make STEM concepts tangible for young people, with program materials prepared to help them learn about such things as chemistry, light and sound, archaeology, robotics and planets and stars.

“Why read about science when you can just do it?” the STEM Scouts website reads like a double-dog dare.

“I think that’s what makes the STEM Scouts program so powerful — even though we have lots of programs, a lot of it is theoretical. This expands it with hands-on applications with a real world situation in a fun, exciting way,” said William Albrecht, COO and director of field service for the Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council.

It doesn’t get more hands-on than stretching slime between fingers, adding different levels of liquid to see how it affects the material’s viscosity or sticking it to noses.

“It was fun and creative,” Weber said.

Robyn Macklin is the Coastside leader who hosted the activity from her kitchen.

“Everyone went home messy and super excited and talking about science,” she said.

Macklin said she was inspired to take the helm when she was looking for an activity that would suit her child. Little League didn’t work, nor did soccer. Those activities were too big and too social. But Scouts turned out to be just right. When she heard that the Boy Scouts of America organization would launch a STEM initiative, she thought it would be even better.

She said she was prepared to drive her child an hour and a half each way to San Jose for the next closest STEM Scouts troop, but was told she could start one locally — if she found enough recruits. It was a hit.

“When we reached out to the community to see where there is demand and interest to see families getting excited about this experience, she stepped up,” Albrecht said. “She works very diligently to help us find additional kids, and they’re off and running.”

While the program is open to girls and boys, the meetings kick off with a talk about the Boy Scout Oath and the Boy Scout Law.

“What’s important is that it helps the Scouts be successful citizens,” Weber said. The scout said that Scout principles and STEM, especially engineering, have a lot in common. “It’s helping people,” he said.

Darion Angelini thought the first meeting was a hoot.

“We have a little boy who’s not into sports. They’re not all cut of the same mold, so I think it’s great. And they’re allowing girls in there!” grandmother Ellie Angelini said. “We’re excited to get this started.”

The Boy Scouts of America organization plans to expand to 25 STEM Scouts programs by the end of the year.

Macklin’s troop serves third- through fifth-graders, but she hopes the idea takes off for middle and high school students as well. Macklin said she could fit another two to three scouts at home, or if there’s greater interest, she could accommodate more if she finds a sponsor for a larger location on Sunday mornings.

“Hopefully I’ll have that problem next year where the program is really successful and other kids want to do it,” Macklin said.

Learn more about STEM Scouts at stemscouts.org.

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