Beyond cookies: Girl Scouts are building robots and video games

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 7, 2013 - 2:22 PM

Badges with techie twists encourage Scouts – both boys and girls – to explore science and engineering when they’re not building campfires.

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Girl Scouts are including more science- and math-oriented programs to help prepare members for the work environment.

The robots that Claire Wulf assembled at Girl Scout camps were all different.

There was a car, a catapult loaded by conveyor belt, even a gizmo that scooted around the room with a color scanner, reacting to different rainbow hues.

Yet all the gadgets fulfilled a singular mission: Wulf, 12, is hooked on technology and engineering.

“I really like it,” she said. “When I see something new, I’m like, ‘OK, how does that work?’ ”

High-tech activities — from robots to video games — have joined cookouts and camping as scouting staples for both girls and boys. After all, a compass is great, but it’s usually easier to find a GPS unit these days.

The Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles garnered national attention last month when they announced a new patch for video game design. That came on the heels of the Boy Scouts of America’s debut of a new national badge for game design.

None of the Twin Cities area Boy Scouts have completed the tasks required to earn the badge yet, but they are interested, said Kent York, spokesman for the Boy Scouts Northern Star Council.

“Video gaming and boys seem to go hand in hand,” he said. “The idea is to try to teach them what’s behind those video games and the science and technology that goes into them.”

For the Girl Scouts of the USA, it’s about teaching technology and encouraging girls to explore traditionally male careers.

There’s no arguing that men outnumber women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Giving girls skills and confidence in those areas is “a major push that we have with Girl Scouts,” said Sara Danzinger, spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys, which represents 49 counties. “We want girls to know that those career opportunities are available to them and very interesting.”

That sparked the robotics program a decade ago in collaboration with St. Catherine University. Thousands of girls have since attended the annual summer camps, where women engineers serve as mentors and teachers, Danzinger said.

Beyond cookies

Other badges offer a chance to study engineering through product design and everything from video games to roller-coaster physics under the heading of “entertainment technology.”

That’s exciting for Deborah Wulf, Claire’s mom, who was a Girl Scout herself back when the closest thing to a tech-related badge was “cooking, which had some chemistry involved.”

She has watched her daughter and other Scouts approach technology as a social activity, gaining confidence — plus math and science skills — along the way.

“There’s so much more out there now,” Deborah Wulf said. “It’s a new world for girls if they feel like they can enter in those fields.”

Claire Wulf hasn’t decided what she wants to do when she grows up, although she admits bein an engineer is in the running.

For now, she’s soaking up every Girl Scout experience she can and hoping to mentor younger Scouts at future science and technology activities.

“People think Girl Scouts is camping and selling cookies,” Claire Wulf said. “If they want to do something important when they’re older, be a scientist or discover a cure for cancer, this will help them.”

Robot mission: accomplished.

 

Katie Humphrey • 612-673-4758





 

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