By Sharon Karasick
Girl Scouts are encouraged to try all sorts of new things in their scouting experience, a commitment reflected in their new motto: ”When she’s a Girl Scout, she’s also a G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™. While many troops still embrace the traditional three c’s of crafts, camping, and cookies, Girl Scouts are also exploring new civic engagement opportunities through innovative STEM programming.
On the surface, civic engagement might not seem to have much in common with STEM, an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. But the Girl Scouts’ new partnership with SciStarter offers girls a unique opportunity to participate in authentic scientific research, to share that research with others, and to encourage the people in their communities to take action to help take better care of the world we live in.
Girl Scouts of the USA is one of the largest leadership development organization for girls, preparing our nation’s female youth to become leaders and advocates for themselves and their communities.. Building on years of evidence-based research, they are expanding the scouting experience to include more experiential explorations in STEM. Defying gender normative “girl” stereotypes, Girl Scouts are going outside and collecting data that will help scientists answer big and pressing questions that require disperse data points from across the country and around the globe.
Girl Scouts and SciStarter worked together to create the “Think Like a Citizen Scientist” Journey, a program that involves several troop meetings dedicated to showing girls how to participate in scientific research through their lifetimes, whether or not they become professional scientists.
Through the Journey’s six recommended meetings, Girl Scouts learn how to 1) observe like a scientist 2) analyze data like a scientist and then 3) capture new data that will be used by professional scientists to answer the big challenge questions that are integral to the scientific endeavor today. After learning how to participate in citizen science, the girls take action in their communities to share what they have learned and experienced to inspire others toward civic action through citizen science participation.
Girl Scouts in communities across the country have jumped onto this new opportunity, available to K-5 age girls. They are participating in research on clouds, insects, light pollution, streams, and tree squirrels.
Participating in the citizen science journey offers lifelong learning opportunities to troop leaders as well, said Kimberly Williamson, one of the first leaders to complete the citizen science journey with her troop of Brownies and Juniors.
Many adult leaders are not familiar with STEM themselves, and by implementing the easy-to-follow curriculum, they are building their own knowledge and experiences right alongside the girls.
“As the troop leader, I learned a lot, as did the girls,” Williamson said. “Since we started our Journey during the summer, we were about to rekindle and reinforce some of the science terms and scientific method processes that several of my girls learned during the past school year. Others were able to include what they have learned during science class already this year.”
But this program takes the learning a critical step further by bringing the practices of science to life. “I like that our experiment with help real scientists,” said Jaiden, a Junior Girl Scout in Northeast Ohio. “I can’t wait to do our Take Action project, so that we can show people how to protect our planet.”
When it comes to advancing civic engagement, the Girl Scouts of the USA are taking a big leap toward ushering in a new era for science in promoting citizen science. As the popularization of citizen science grows, science will — more and more — be informed by all people rather than existing as a solely scholarly activity that happens in isolated research settings.
For the Girl Scouts and their leaders who are using this new opportunity to get outside and engage in their communities in a new way, they are creating transformative change already. “The kids loved doing the activities , said Catherine Jurado, a troop leader in Central Maryland, who integrated their Think Like A Citizen Science Journey into a trip to the Appalachian Mountains. “The troop is already making plans to do more citizen science in the future.”
Thinking about participating in the Think Like a Citizen Scientist Journey with your own troop?
Not a Girl Scout, but you would like to get involved?
Sharon Karasick is a project director for the Girl Scouts of the USA collaboration with SciStarter and formerly the NASA GLOBE initiative and National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools program partnership. Sheri has a strong commitment to developing more effective strategies to connect people to science. She launched the Leadership in Biology initiative, Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science, ActionBioscience.org and Year of Science 2009. Sharon earned an Executive Certificate in Social Impact Strategy from the University of Pennsylvania and has a bachelor’s degree in biology.
Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!