Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Geoscience Education in the Boy Scouts of America

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Geoscience Education in the Boy Scouts of America

Article excerpt


Boy Scout geoscience education is not "desk" education-it is an informal, hands-on, real-world education where Scouts learn through activities, trips, and the outdoors, as well as in meetings and in the merit badge program. Merit badge requirements, many of which meet National Science Education Standards for Earth and Space Science, give boys foundational experiences and familiarity with geoscience topics. Earning a Geology merit badge at any location resulted in a significant gain of content knowledge (P < 0.001). The combined treatment groups for all location types had a 9.2% gain in content knowledge, but the amount of content knowledge acquired through the merit badge program varied with location. The longitudinal posttest scores, with a 15.0% increase from the attributed average pretest score, were higher than the posttest scores from any location except summer camp. No gains were seen in the control group; age and grade were not significant factors. Combining interview data with quantitative data indicates that Scouts who participate in the Geology merit badge are better prepared for school geoscience classes. Participation in the Geology merit badge provides geoscience experiences and "familiarity" with geoscience concepts that allow Scouts to create and retain geoscience knowledge. © 2012 National Association of Geoscience Teachers. [DOI: 10.5408/09-192.1]

Key words: Boy Scouts, Boy Scout education, experiential education, free-choice education, Geology merit badge, geoscience education, hands-on, informal education, merit badge, outdoor education, science education, Scouts, Scouting


A boy is not a desk animal. He is not a sitting-down animal ... He is a boy - God bless him - full to the brim of fun and fight and hunger and daring and mischief and noise and observation and excitement. If he is not, he is abnormal. (Baden -Powell, 1920)

The sciences, the Geology merit badge, the Conservation merit badge, the Astronomy merit badge, all of those piqued my curiosity, and, I think, helped lead me into this career program. (Sherman Lundy, geologist)


The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) organization may be one of the largest providers of long-term informal science education and geoscience education in the United States, because Boy Scouts make up 14% of the population of boys between the ages of 11 and 18 (BSA, 2008c). According to the BSA director of research, 898,320 boys were enrolled in the traditional Boy Scout program as of December 31, 2009. Between 1911, when the merit badge program was established in the United States, and 2008, Boy Scouts earned 489,419 Geology merit badges; Boy Scouts earned 19,525 Geology merit badges during 2007 alone. Between 1911 and 2008, Scouts earned 1,023,560 Soil and Water Conservation merit badges, including 13,630 in 2007 (BSA, 2008c).

Purposes of the Study

The Boy Scouts have always emphasized education, especially in the natural sciences. The educational agenda has an active, outdoor component emphasizing outdoor learning through camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities (Nicholson, 1940; BSA, 1998). Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scout Movement, associated the study of nature - animate, inanimate, biology, plants, and animals - with the pursuit of happiness.

The aims of the study are to determine whether participating in Boy Scout activities, particularly the Geology merit badge, helps boys increase their geology content knowledge and prepares them to do better in school geoscience classes by providing experiences, memories, and knowledge upon which the boys can build further knowledge.

Background on Scouting

Literature Review

Little research on Scouting exists in science education literature. A science education study was conducted with Cub Scouts in Great Britain, but according to the director of research for the BSA, who researches and collects information printed about the Boy Scouts, the BSA has no record of research on science education or geoscience education in the BSA. …

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