What does it mean to be a Girl Scout today? For me, Girl Scouts meant bi-monthly meetings to earn badges on everything from first aid to outdoor cooking, sprinkled with weekend and week-long trips to Camp Lakamaga. Since I grew up in Marine on the St. Croix, with a veritable treasure trove of woods, lakes, and rivers to explore, our troop leaders strove to get us to see the importance of the natural world around us.
Now that I live in Saint Paul, surrounded by all the opportunities that city life brings with it, my daughter’s troop earns a variety of badges on everything from digital photography, to geocaching, to volunteering at Feed My Starving Children. Much like my own mother who volunteered to lead an overnight event at Camp Lakamaga, I too wanted to supplement the amazing work my daughter’s troop leaders were doing, and in the spirit of the newly released STEM badges, I wanted to give the girls an opportunity to learn more about engineering.
When I found out that the Omnitheater film, “Dream Big: Engineering our World,” would be coming to Minnesota, I became a DiscoverE Girl Day Role Model, and received one of their Bell Girl Day Grants. Through this grant, our Girl Scouts would not only see what it meant to be an engineer on the big screen, they would also try their hand at the design process by engineering and racing air-powered cars at my school’s Innovation Center.
One chilly morning in Saint Paul, we all met in the Science Museum of Minnesota’s atrium under a banner that declared 2018 the “Year of the Engineer.” I handed out Girl Day stickers to the Girl Scouts and we made our way into the auditorium. As the credits rolled, the girls eagerly whispered amongst themselves, “Did you see what she built? Did you know that engineers did that? I can’t wait to build my car!”
Before the girls began building, we talked about what engineers do and looked to the film for several examples on how they built creative solutions to solve problems. The girls were excited when I told them that one of the engineers in the film had a special message for them. I had met Menzar Pehlivan—a geotechnical engineer featured in the movie—at an educator’s preview sponsored by the Science Museum of Minnesota, and she wanted to make sure I passed along the following message to the Girl Scouts: “Dream Big! You are an infinite possibility.” With this note on the board, the girls began to build and design their cars, modifying them by adding paper fins and stickers to give it their own special touch.
The girls had fun pumping up the air that powered their cars and racing them against one another. They were supportive and encouraging when a car didn’t work and they all cheered when the cars made it to the finish line. After all the pizza was consumed and the last car whooshed past, the girls earned a “Dream Big” patch. A fitting name for an event that inspired these Girl Scouts to think creatively about solutions to everyday problems.
Inspiring wonder in our Girl Scouts doesn’t need to be a big event. Simply taking them outside to look up at the night sky and talking about the science lab that is zooming around us at 17,150 miles per hour—known as the International Space Station (ISS)—is enough to get them thinking about the stardust that resides in all of us.
If your troop is interested in exploring space, there are many opportunities to do so—everything from a Girl Scout adventure at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, to activities that you can do at your next troop meeting. The aspiring astronauts at my daughter’s tenth birthday built air-powered straw-sized rockets that they launched to the five outer planets, as well as dwarf planet Pluto. They created space-themed necklaces, built pinwheel galaxies, and snacked on astronaut ice cream. I signed up each girl to have their name sent to the Sun and printed out the certificates. Both NASA education and National Geographic education have great activities to help you plan everything from building a robotic arm to a probe landing on Mars. Think of the STEM badges your troop could earn!
Of course, now that I am grown and flipped through the Girl Scout catalogs of my youth, I wish my troop had investigated the world beyond our valley and gone for the Aerospace badge. As leaders now, we can help create a new version for today’s young Peggy Whitsons, who dream of being among the first to explore the red planet. A Mars Explorer badge perhaps? The sky’s the limit!
Caroline Little – Caroline is a French teacher at Saint Thomas Academy, an all-boys school in Mendota Heights, MN. She moderates the school’s internationally recognized Experimental Vehicle team, which gives students a real-life, hands-on engineering experience. Caroline has received numerous awards and recognitions for her excellence in teaching, including the honor of being named the 2015 National French Teacher of the Year at the Secondary Level by the American Association of Teachers of French. She is also a DiscoverE Girl Day Role Model, and in 2017, participated in NASA’s Inaugural Microgravity University for Educators (hence her love of all-things space!). A Girl Scout in her youth, Caroline is now the mom of Girl Scouts Emilie and April. In her free time, she loves to draw, garden, and go on adventures with her family.