Mmmm… Thin Mints. We love Girl Scout cookies, but Girl Scouts is about SO much more than that. Girls Scouts of America offers programs that challenge girls to learn critical skills like setting goals, building teams, solving conflicts and, most importantly, learning to lead.
Girl Scouts want to make a difference in the world, and one way to do this is through their K-12, STEM-based learning experiences. Their STEM curriculum includes subjects like nature, digital art, video game development, and the physics of roller coasters. Innovation badges encourage problem solving using scientific methods from fields like anthropology, engineering, graphic design, and business.
Badges, Journeys, and Awards – with a STEM Twist
Along with badges and journeys, Girl Scouts can earn Bronze, Silver, or Gold Awards based on their topic of choice. Each of these prestigious awards has specific prerequisites girls must fulfill before earning the award. But all require the Girl Scout to independently choose a topic, make a plan, and put that plan into action.
The Gold Award is the highest, most distinguished award a Girl Scout can earn. Ashley Martin, a local Juliette Ambassador Girl Scout and high school senior with a penchant for science is earning that award. She decided to use her favorite subject–genetics–to create a high school level unit study focusing on the role genetically modified organisms (GMOs) play in our lives.
All About Science
Before she decided to pursue her Gold Award, however, she was already blending STEM and Girl Scouts. She coordinated a STEM career discussion for middle school girls with women speakers from city government, private industry, and NASA for a “Bliss: Live it! Give it!” journey. For her “Justice” journey, she created a publicly available YouTube video on the pros and cons of GMOs from a scientific, political, environmental, and business perspective. But it was her Gold Award that brought together her genetics-focused work in her “Justice” journey and her studies at Calhoun and the University of Alabama in Huntsville (where she is dual-enrolled in science, math, history, and language classes).
“I developed this curriculum for my Girl Scout Gold Award to give a mostly unbiased overview of genetic engineering and genetically modified foods that encourages people to develop their own opinions.”
As a unit study, her high school level curriculum is meant to be completed in 3 days and includes materials covering the scientific, economic, social, and environmental impacts of GMO crops. On day one, the curriculum overviews the basics of DNA including mitosis and meiosis, Mendelian Genetics, Punnett Squares, and trait inheritance. Day two summarizes three popular methods used to genetically modify crops and then discusses current GMOs and benefits/concerns. Policy, ethics, and business practices are covered on Day 3. There are slide presentations for each day, detailed background information, quizzes, labs, and other support material.
Ashley’s Gold Award, outside of the detailed content she created for her curriculum, was also an exercise in project planning from proposal to final product.
“The proposal had to be laid out in detail and I had to present to the local council,” said Ashley. “The project had to be something that could stand alone [without me] and I had to be able to measure its success.” Once the council approved her project, she got to work. The result was a fantastically detailed curriculum now posted on two curriculum websites as a free download. When she taught the material and tested its effectiveness (quizzing the participants before and after the class), quiz score averages went from 27% pre-class to 70% post-class.
Something to be Proud Of
In additional to the learning experience – coming up with an idea on her own, setting goals for herself, presenting her proposal, and building the curriculum – the Gold Award has given Ashley a few more things to be proud of. According to Girl Scouts, less than 5% of all Girl Scouts achieve this national recognition. In addition, Ashley now qualifies for scholarships at participating colleges and universities.
Was it worth it? Ashley says yes. Her plan is to pursue a PhD in genetics.
We think she’s got a great start.
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Karen Gann had a marketing communications career in high tech before taking a sharp turn into stay-at-home-momdom and homeschooling. She grew up in the Tennesse Valley, lives in Huntsville, and is wife to the wittiest man alive, mother to two head-strong and independent girls (they're adorable, really), and human caregiver to Gomez the dog. Addictions include Facebook, Pinterest, NYC's Radio Lab, coffee, and politics (not necessarily in that order but sometimes all at the same time). She's a foodie, too.